TAMPA – Before his No.8-ranked University of Tampa side took to the field to face Barry in the Sunshine State Conference Tournament final, Spartans coach Adrian Bush said he thought that Buccaneers midfielder Mark Anderson was the best player not only in the conference, but in the entire South region.
With the game scoreless with six minute to play, Anderson’s brilliant 25-yard volley not only backed Bush’s statement, but also gave the Buccaneers the championship.
Mark Kilpatrick added a second goal four minutes later to give the Buccaneers their first SSC Tournament title since 2002, and fourth overall, with a 2-0 victory at Pepin-Rood Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Anderson’s goal came like a bolt from the blue. An angled cross from the right side was headed away by Tampa’s Kyle Williams, but it came to Anderson, who fired his first-time left-footed volley low into the right corner of the net, Spartans goalkeeper Ryan Thompson frozen to his line as the fantastic strike flashed into the net.
“I anticipated it, it fell to my left foot, my weaker foot,” Anderson said. “Lucky enough, it went straight in.”
Anderson then assisted on Mark Kilpatrick’s counter-attack goal in the 87th minute, Zach Fraser’s shot getting blocked to give the Bucs a two-on-one the other way as the Spartans pushed forward for an equalizer. Kilpatrick picked up Anderson’s pass just inside his own half and took it to the edge of the penalty area before sliding his shot underneath an advancing Thompson to make it 2-0.
That it was still scoreless in the final 10 minutes laid at the feet of the Spartans, who could, and quite probably should, have been ahead by that point. Pascal Milien had a close-range header go off the firm Pepin-Rood surface over the crossbar, and then had a shot blocked after a great move begun by Greg O’Connor and continued by Lister Warren had put Milien in on the left in the first half.
The Spartans continued to carry the play to start the second half, Warren seeing his shot from the top of the penalty area well saved, and O’Connor beating two defenders as he cut into the penalty area from the right, only to fire his left-footed shot over the crossbar.
Milien then had an appeal for a penalty turned down after he had picked up the ball at midfield, sped past two defenders down the left side and was clattered into by a Barry defender in the penalty area. Referee Shane Moody saw it as a shoulder-to-shoulder challenge, though, allowing play to continue. Fraser then saw his shot from eight yards go over after a good cross by Brian Fekete on the left.
As the game went on, the Spartans frustration at a lack of a goal became more evident, and they were deeply unhappy after the final whistle blew.
“This is hard,” Milien said. “This is the worst moment for me playing soccer, when I played on my home field, and I see the other team celebrating on my home field, that’s hurting me. But at the end of the day, this is the game of soccer. We’ve got to put this behind us and then move forward.”
Those celebration were sweet for Buccaneers coach Steve McCrath, who said his young side had matured after falling 2-1 to the Spartans back in September. The Buccaneers have now won 10 of their last 11 games entering the NCAA Tournament, which begins next week.
“I think we matured after our game against Tampa the first time,” McCrath said. “From that point on, I think we were much better than a (SSC Tournament) four-seed, but the point is that this team, young as it is, is probably just as strong as anybody in the conference at the top. I think we could all be rated the No.1 team.”
Bush said he was disappointed to lose, but gave credit to the Buccaneers for their victory.
“I think to win championships, you have to come out with championship emotion,” Bush said. “In my opinion, they deserved to win the game based on (the fact that) they wanted to win more than our guys. I’m very, very disappointed in our guys, and now we get to find out what sort of character we’ve got.”
The Spartans were hoping a victory would allow them to be a host site for the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament. Now they will have to wait and see whether they have to travel, and if so where, for the opening weekend of the tournament when the bracket is announced on Monday evening.