TAMPA – After their side’s 8-2 victory against Le Moyne in the NCAA Division II Men’s semifinals, Fort Lewis’ seniors spoke of gaining a chance at redemption after losing in the national final as freshmen in 2006.
If Thursday’s performance is to be any indicator, it would take a massive effort by whichever side they face in Saturday’s final as the No.1-ranked Skyhawks were masterful against the No.6 Dolphins. David Barden, making his return from a broken foot suffered three weeks ago, scored a hat trick while Tom Settle had a goal and three assists as the Skyhawks put on a clinic of attacking soccer.
“We’re delighted with how we played today,” Skyhawks coach Oige Kennedy said. “All credit to our guys, it’s been four years of hard work, and it’s starting to pay off and we’ve got one more game to win.”
Le Moyne came out well, establishing high pressure on the Skyhawks’ defense, and after having a pair of opportunities denied, standout striker Angelo Reina gave the Dolphins the lead in the 16th minute, receiving a pass just outside the penalty area before spinning in-between two defenders and shooting into the right corner of the net.
The lead was short-lived, though, as the Dolphins then relaxed their pressure on the Skyhawks’ midfield, allowing them to establish their rhythm and build pressure down the flanks. Integral to that was full back Kyle Wood, who combined well with Settle to create overlaps and opportunities to center into the penalty area.
“Tommy has 24 assists and leads the nation right now, and part of it is because Kyle gets forward and gives him that support,” Kennedy said. “Also the center midfielders work hard to be in position to play that pass through, and I think we have that on the right, and we have that on the left too, so it’s very hard to stop for teams.”
With the pressure leading to corners and free kicks, Fort Lewis’ height then came into play, and led to the equalizing goal in the 23rd minute as an inswinging corner from the left by Sam Morris was flicked on by Fabian Kling, and Euan Purcell was quickest to react to the opportunity, volleying the ball into the roof of the net from close range.
The goal caused the Skyhawks to increase their pressure on the Dolphins penalty area, and after having a header from Purcell cleared off the line from another corner, the Skyhawks took the lead in the 38th minute. After a second header had been cleared off the line by Le Moyne’s Joe Viviano, the ball was swung wide to Settle on the right. His cross found Barden alone in the penalty area, and he buried his header into the right corner of the net as the Le Moyne defense – which included goalkeeper Dan St. Jacques who was making his first start since 2007 after a shoulder injury on Wednesday to regular starter Steve White had rendered him unable to play – began to show cracks.
“They were good on restarts and corner kicks, and I didn’t think we did a good job defending those,” Le Moyne coach Tom Bonus said. “That changed the game where we were up 1-0, they got two goals off restarts and came back.”
Reina had a chance to tie the game just before halftime, but his shot was well saved by Skyhawks goalkeeper Zane Well, who got down quickly to his left to maintain his side’s lead at the break.
The cracks that appeared in the Le Moyne defense at the end of the first half became holes at the start of the second, as Barden scored his second after he deflected a shot from Jeff Jennings with his chest to make the score 3-1. Five minutes later Purcell grabbed his second, tapping in after Settle’s cross from the right had been knocked down by Barden, and within a minute Barden had completed his hat trick on a shot from the left side of the penalty area.
Reina pulled a goal back for Le Moyne in the 59th minute, but the Dolphins never truly threatened to get back into the game, and a blistering strike from Settle in the 80th minute, followed by a pair of goals by Barnd just added to Le Moyne’s disappointment.
For the Skyhawks, though, the chance at redemption now looms large.
“For the three of us, it’s a second chance,” Barden said referring to himself, Settle and Wells. “Obviously we have regrets from freshman year, Zane was behind another goalie, but Tom and I were pretty much on the field for a lot of the game, looking back there, we have regrets, but we have a second chance, and I can’t say how excited we are to do it. There’s probably six or seven other boys who were with the team then that pushed us to where we are, so the second-chance boys, we’re ready to do it.”