Nov. 11, 2011
DENVER, Colo. --- Postseason play. Conference tournament time. One-and-done soccer has begun. The mindsets of most teams have changed at least slightly, if not dramatically, to expectations of overtime matches, sudden victory and shootouts.
Not for New Mexico. Well, not in Friday’s semifinal game. Instead, the Lobos cruised to a 3-0 victory over the No. 4 seed San Jose Spartans to advance to Sunday’s championship game of the 2011 MPSF Tournament.
First-team all-conference defender Kyle Venter came up big first for New Mexico. After all, he didn’t earn that honor doing nothing. Venter came in to Friday’s contest having already converted four corner kicks for goals, three working as game-tying goals, and added another in the 37th minute of play.
New Mexico flooded the box on a Michael Green corner kick set piece, one that was collected by redshirt freshman Carson Baldinger just inside the box. Baldinger ripped a shot from about 20 yards out, which ricocheted off of a Spartan and landed at the feet of Venter.
It’s a testament to the Lobos’ patience and tenacity that the sophomore center back was ready and waiting. New Mexico has become notorious for capitalizing on its set pieces, primarily because they continue to pressure opponents following the second touch. Venter has become an expert at pressing high into the box on corner kicks, rather than retreating to his back line, and his drive has paid off.
In what seemed like slow motion, Venter collected Baldinger’s rebound studied the San Jose net thoroughly before driving his fifth goal of the season into the top left corner of the Spartan net to give the Lobos a 1-0 lead. Fellow first-team all-MPSF keeper Jonathan Lester didn’t have a chance.
Though the score read in favor of the Lobos at the half, the first 45 showcased opportunities at both ends. The Spartans took four first-half shots and put all of them on net. Lobo keeper Victor Rodriguez has only been forced to save four or more shots in a single game, six prior times this season. New Mexico tallied five shots on the half, but only forced Lester into one stop.
San Jose State displayed a remarkable amount of energy in the second half as well, considering having played just 24 hours before in Thursday’s quarterfinal round. The Spartans took eight second-half shots to New Mexico’s nine, and matched to Lobos in the second half with three corners.
It was clear that some insurance goals wouldn’t hurt the Lobos, and true freshman Adrian Mora Delgado was the first to deliver.
For his first career goal as a Lobo, the international out of Alejuela, Costa Rica converted off of a direct kick in the 59th minute to give New Mexico at a slightly more comfortable 2-0 lead. Delgado made a back post run behind his respective defender to slot Green’s direct kick home. Junior Devon Sandoval capped off the scoring in the 64th minute, when he picked up a miscue by the Spartan defense and took it in for the unassisted goal.
This gave the Lobo coaching staff the luxury of running 19 of their 20 players, including true freshman Nick Miele. While the Lobo back line – comprised of Venter, Travis Campbell, Mathew Gibbons and Levi Rossi – is seemingly impenetrable, lately Miele has been coming off the bench to give the defense some fresh legs. While he played 90 minutes against UNLV on Nov. 5, Friday’s match marked Miele’s first road minutes of his career.
Rodriguez took the win and improved to 17-0-2 on the season after logging his fifth straight shutout before taking a seat in the 64th minute and allowing Javier Lane to finish out the match. Lester fell to 9-7-3 as the Spartans saw their season end with a 9-8-3 mark.
With a 19-game unbeaten streak in the books – the longest on record in a single season – New Mexico is just one game away from tying the program’s all-time unbeaten streak of 20 games. That mark was set over the 2004 and 2005 seasons.
The Lobos will take on the winner of Friday’s second semi-final game between the No. 2 seed Roadrunners of Cal State Bakersfield and the No. 3 seed Falcons of the U.S. Air Force Academy. The championship contest is scheduled for 1 p.m.