GREENVILLE, S.C. (Nov. 9, 2017) – After securing a first round bye with a regular season conference championship, ETSU men’s soccer returns to action to battle Mercer in the SoCon semifinal round tomorrow, Nov. 10 at 3:30 p.m. in Greenville, S.C.
The top-seeded Bucs, who won back-to-back regular season conference championships with an undefeated 6-0-4 record, will return to action after a 13-day hiatus from action. The winner will advance to the SoCon championship final, which takes place Sunday, Nov. 12 at 1 p.m.
The tournament will be hosted by Furman University in Greenville, S.C. Following ETSU’s match with Mercer, No. 2 UNCG will battle No. 3 Furman at 7 p.m. with the winner also advancing to the championship final.
In the quarterfinal round, No. 4 Mercer edged No. 5 Wofford 2-1 in Macon, Ga., while No. 3 Furman thrived in a 7-1 victory over No. 6 VMI.
Last Time Out
With a regular season championship on the line, the Bucs surged to a 4-1 victory on a wet and rainy night in Johnson City Oct. 28. The win came on ETSU’s senior night, as six seniors played their final game in Summers Taylor Stadium.
Two minutes into the game, ETSU started what would become a 4-0 run in the first 45 minutes. Freshman Danny Barlow (Newcastle, England) scored his team-high fifth goal off an assist from senior Fletcher Ekern (Knoxville, Tenn.) to put the Bucs up 1-0.
Less than 10 minutes later, another senior made the score sheet as Jeffrey George (Safety Harbor, Fla.) deflected in a shot on a cross from Barlow. ETSU took a 3-0 lead when a couple more seniors connected, as Ben Holt (Knoxville, Tenn.) found Richmond Taylor (Hendersonville, Tenn,) who nailed a header past the keeper.
The final ETSU score came with 16 seconds remaining in the half, as freshman Austin Bihlmeyer scored his first career goal from 21 yards out. After the half, Wofford nailed a penalty kick past an otherwise-flawless Jonny Sutherland (Chester, U.K.) to cap the scoring. The officials called the game in the 71st minute due to unplayable field conditions.
Sutherland finished the game with two saves, giving him 60 for the season and 200 for his career. Sutherland is the only ETSU keeper in history to accomplish the feat.
ETSU Quick Facts
After winning last year’s conference tournament, the Mercer Bears come into the 2017 tournament as the fourth seed, finishing the regular season 6-8-4 and 4-4-2 in SoCon action. The Bears come in off a 2-1 win over Wofford in the quarterfinal round.
Mercer – who began its program in 1970 – is ETSU’s most storied rival and has been with the Bucs nearly every step of the way. The Bears were members of the ASUN conference when ETSU established its men’s soccer program in 2008. Both teams would later join the SoCon together in 2014.
Mercer is led by 10 year head coach Brad Ruzzo, who took the helm in 2008. He came into the season with an 82-77-18 career overall record and a 20-8-2 record in SoCon play. In the SoCon tournament, Ruzzo is 3-1-2 all-time, including a win in last year’s tournament championship over ETSU.
Scouting the Bears
The Bears are an offensive minded squad, as they rank in the top half, statistically, of the conference in every offensive category. The Bears are also heating up as of late, outscoring opponents by a combined 15-7 in their last six games.
The defending 2016 conference tournament champs are led by seniors Connor Antley and Will Bargou, who were both First Team All-Conference selections. Antley anchors the backline as a defender, while Bargou leads the conference with 12 goals and 27 points on the season.
In goal for Mercer is senior Jeremy Booth, who earned a spot on the All-Conference Second Team this season. Booth has a .732 save percentage and has 60 saves on the year in 18 matchups – which is tied with Sutherland through 17 games.
ETSU and Wofford History
Mercer holds the all-time advantage over ETSU with a 7-5-4 record over 16 contests. Mercer is the only school ETSU has faced in every season since 2008. The Bucs have faced Mercer more than any other opponent since starting the program in 2008.
The two teams battled to a scoreless draw in Johnson City Oct. 10 before ETSU took the series with a 1-0 overtime victory in Macon exactly two weeks later.
Last season, the Bucs earned two regular season wins with a 3-2 decision at home and a 2-0 win in Macon, marking the first time ETSU has knocked off Mercer twice in a season.
Also, the two schools faced off in the 2016 conference championship game, which ended in a 4-1 penalty kick advantage for Mercer. Both schools received bids for the NCAA tournament, with Mercer picking up an automatic bid and ETSU claiming an at-large bid. ETSU’s bid was the first time in five years a SoCon school earned an at-large selection for the NCAA tournament.
ETSU’s other two wins in the series came in 2010 and 2013, respectively. The two ETSU wins last season snapped a four-game losing streak to the Bears that dated back to 2014 and 2015.
ETSU Record Watch
After Sutherland’s record-breaking 183rd save two weeks ago against Mercer, the keeper now has his eyes set on a couple more records. Sutherland now needs three shutouts and two wins to tie the program career records held by Ryan Coulter in each category.
Sutherland earned his 200th save against Wofford in ETSU’s last regular season game, becoming the only ETSU keeper to hit the milestone. He currently sits at 200 for his career, with 60 saves this season and 70 saves each in 2015 and 2016.
Senior defender Chase Clack (Memphis, Tenn.) has now played in 5,446 straight minutes, becoming only the second player in ETSU history to hit 5,000 career minutes (Coulter) and the first non-goalie to accomplish the feat.
Coulter has 5,855 straight minutes, meaning Clack would need to log 410 minutes to break the cumulative record. Adding in the 141 minutes he played as a freshman in 2014, Clack also has 5,587 career minutes and needs 268 more to tie Coulter for total career minutes.
After adding his third goal of the season against VMI, Ekern has 23 career goals and is four goals away from breaking the program career goal record held by David Geno (26).
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