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Triumph and tragedy

Pat Leonard | Monday, November 17, 2003

STORRS, CONN. – Chad Riley sprinted past St. John’s goaltender Guy Hertz at midfield. Riley had the ball, the net and 50 yards in front of him.”I was thinking, ‘Just don’t kick it over the goal,'” Riley said with a smile on his face.He raised his arms high, drilled home a shot from point blank range, and with that emphatic blast the No. 3 Notre Dame men’s soccer team secured a 2-0 victory over top-seeded St. John’s at Joseph J. Morrone Stadium Friday night for the Big East title.St. John’s (14-5-1, 8-2-0) was pressing with all 11 men in a desperate attempt to tie the game. Riley’s goal with 18 seconds remaining removed any doubt that the Irish (15-3-3, 6-3-1 Big East) were champions.”A lot of times at the end of the game they’re throwing everyone forward,” Riley said. “They’re the times you can really ice games.”Notre Dame recorded its 13th shutout of the season and its third of the tournament, outscoring opponents 4-0 at Big East tournament.Senior defender Kevin Richards scored Notre Dame’s first goal. His second career goal came at the 77:59 mark to break a scoreless tie.Senior forward Devon Prescod hit Richards on a sideline run from 50 yards out and Richards split two defenders at the 18-yard line before hitting a shot far side. One of four assistant captains, Richards had not scored since a 3-1 loss to Providence on Oct. 8, 2000.”In the first half I hadn’t really tried to take the left back one-on-one. I was just crossing balls,” Richards said. “I got the pass, and the defender was shading me down the line, so I cut it back inside and found myself right behind the defense. So I settled myself and tried to hit the back post.”Richards is even more of an unlikely hero for a team whose top three scorers – Detter (12), Prescod (11) and Martin (5) – have accounted for 28 of the team’s 33 goals this season.”[Prescod] predicted that someone who hadn’t scored in a while was going to score today,” Richards said. “I guess it was me.”Goaltender Chris Sawyer, named Big East goaltender of the year, made four saves in the game. Notre Dame is now 2-8-2 against St. John’s all-time.The Irish earned the right to compete in the title game by defeating Providence, 1-0, on a blistering cold Friday evening.Forward Justin Detter flicked home a Kevin Goldthwaite free kick at the 68:13 mark in the second half, and the Irish held on despite late surges from the desperate Friars in the first tournament meeting of the two squads.Providence (6-9-3, 4-5-1 Big East), the only team in the Big East tournament not ranked in the top 10 in its respective region, needed to win the whole tournament in order to reach the NCAA’s with an automatic bid.But Notre Dame would not relent after the first goal, staying in the Providence end of the field and applying pressure.”Notre Dame soccer is never going to sink in and play defense,” captain Greg Martin said. “We’re good when we’re proactive defensively. We call it stepping. What the Boss [Irish head coach Bobby Clark] says and what I tell the boys after we score is ‘five minutes hard.’ After you score you want to hold onto the ball because lots of times in soccer, goals follow goals.”Notre Dame out shot Providence 16-10 as seven different Irish players had legitimate scoring chances, shots either saved or shot wide.After inching by Providence, Notre Dame opened the first half of the final game by out-shooting St. John’s 7-5 in the first half. The Red Storm, however, had the best chances. Less than five minutes in, a timely offsides call saved the Irish from surrendering a penalty kick.Notre Dame repeatedly dumped the ball deep into the St. John’s end in an attempt to slow the Red Storm tempo.But St. John’s came right back, peppering Notre Dame goaltender Chris Sawyer. Sawyer saved a hard shot from Georgios Spanos at the 31:20 mark from 20 yards out.Notre Dame responded with a threat of its own. Justin Detter, who scored the lone Irish goal in the semifinal victory, juked left and hit a shot that St. John’s goaltender Bill Gaudette corralled at the 25:40 mark.Both goalies were solid, but Sawyer would soon prove why he was named Big East goaltender of the year.With 18:30 remaining, St. John’s midfielder Simone Salinno made a soft drop pass to midfielder Angel Rodriguez. Rodriguez drilled a rocket from 22 yards out that seemed destined for the back of the net.An alert Sawyer leapt to his left and seemed to never stop sailing until he landed on the ground with the ball between his arms.The half would end 0-0.St. John’s played the Big East semifinal and final games without All-American defender Chris Wingert, who was playing on the U.S. Under-23 team in a pair of Olympic qualifying matches.St. John’s reached the championship game by beating Rutgers in penalty kicks, 4-3, after ending overtime in a 1-1 tie. Red Storm leading scorer Simone Salinno drilled home his penalty shot to ice it after back up goaltender Guy Hertz made a diving save. It was the second match of the tournament decided on penalty kicks. The first came in a Providence upset win over No. 2 seed Virginia Tech in the quarterfinals.

NotesNotre Dame had eight players named to an All-Big East team this season:All-Big East first team – Justin Detter, F, senior; Jack Stewart, D, junior; Chris Sawyer, G, juniorAll Big East second team – Kevin Goldthwaite, D, junior; Chad Riley, MID, seniorAll Big East third team – Greg Martin, MID, senior; Devon Prescod, F, senior; Kevin Richards, D, seniorGoalkeeper of the year: Chris Sawyer, seniorThe team closest to Notre Dame is St. John’s with six All-Big East players, including five first-team selections.Detter was named the most outstanding offensive performer of the Big East Tournament. Sawyer was namedmost outstanding defensive performer.