The University of Tampa’s bid for back-to-back Division II Tournament Final Four appearances came to an end on Saturday night as the No.10 Spartans fell to No.9 Lees-McRae 1-0 in Banner Elk, N.C.
The goal came on the first real attack of the night, as Bobcats midfielder Jamie Bladen fired a shot from 30 yards out that caught the underside of the crossbar and went into the net in the second minute.
“I don’t look for it, but if it is a chance to shoot I am confident I can hit the target and test the keeper,” Bladen said. “It is a team game. I might have scored the goal, but it is a team game. We are glad we made it to the final four, but our goal is to win it (the NCAA Tournament).”
The Spartans had difficulty countering the early strike as the Bobcats defense did well to restrict the Spartans scoring opportunities. Pascal Milien and Lister Warren only had one shot apiece, and the Spartans only forced Lees-McRae goalkeeper Sean Paradise into a pair of saves on the night.
Spartans coach Adrian Bush said he as the Spartans squad was disappointed, but gave the Bobcats credit for an outstanding defensive performance.
“I give Lees-McRae a lot of credit, and I think they are a fantastic team and very well coached,” Bush said. “I think it was a game played in the middle third and outside of Bladen’s shot for the goal, I think both teams defended very well. I think (Lees-McRae) will represent the South very well in the Final Four, and we have nothing to be ashamed of on our side. Hopefully they will come back with a championship.”
The Spartans will see five starters graduate from the side this season, with Pascal Milien, Dan Ingvarsson, Kyle Williams, Ryan Thompson and Zach Fraser moving on. Bush said he was grateful to have had those five players be a part of the Spartans program.
“My heart goes out to this senior class as I know they gave our program and university their heart and soul for four years,” Bush said. “All of them are great soccer players but to see their growth as people off the field is something I feel blessed to be a part of.”
The Bobcats will now come to Tampa, and face Lewis on Dec. 3 in the Final Four. The other two teams headed to Tampa will be decided on Sunday as Le Moyne faces Southern (N.H.) in one Elite Eight contest and defending Division II champion Cal-State Dominguez Hills facing Fort Lewis in the other.