The Missouri State men’s soccer team fell in another heartbreaker to Central Arkansas, this time in the second round of the Missouri Valley Conference Championship.
Missouri State began the tournament as the fourth seed after finishing the regular season with only two losses. The Bears went 2-2-2 in MVC play, and vied for a share of the regular season title in their last regular season matchup against Central Arkansas. The 1-0 loss dropped the team to fourth in the final regular season standings.
The Bears began the tournament against Evansville, the host team of the tournament. MSU conceded a goal within the first minute of the game, and Evansville struck again at the 23rd minute mark.
Down 2-0 to begin the first half, the Bears substitutes began to cut into the deficit. Junior midfielder Stuart Wilkin scored at the 34-minute mark to cut the deficit in half.
Less than a minute later, sophomore forward Greg Stratton scored another goal to tie the match at two with 10 minutes left in the first half.
The Bears took the lead right before halftime after senior forward Harry Lewis finished the back end of a corner kick to give the Bears a 3-2 advantage.
“That was pretty wild,” head coach Jon Leamy said. “We gave up a goal in the first minute. We conceded a goal later in the half. To come back 3-2 in the first half was huge.”
The Bears’ generally sparse offensive production this season was reversed within one half of play coming from the reserve players.
“The first three goals came from off the bench, so it was huge for the bench guys,”Leamy said.
MSU’s top scorers then picked up the last two goals, with senior forward Conor Ingram scoring from the top of the box in the 54th minute and sophomore forward Josh Dolling scored on a penalty kick in the 70th minute to secure the 5-2 victory over the Purple Aces.
The semifinal matchup was a different tale for Missouri State, as they took on No. 1 Central Arkansas, whom they narrowly lost to just six days before.
Missouri State took a 1-0 lead at the 18-minute mark after junior defender Ben Stroud headed in a free kick.
Central Arkansas stormed back and scored a free kick of their own at the 43-minute mark and the game remained tied going into halftime.
Wilkin finished the rebound of another free kick at the 57-minute mark to give MSU the 2-1 lead.
Central Arkansas scored seven minutes later to tie the game, and the game remained tied through the end of regulation time.
Overtime went scoreless and the teams went to penalty kicks.
“In OT we had five shots on goal and we were the stronger team,” Leamy said. “We think we should have had another PK at the end (in overtime) where Josh got plowed, but it didn’t get called.”
Both teams converted four of their first five kicks. Central Arkansas scored their sixth kick, and MSU missed their sixth, giving Central Arkansas the victory.
“It was a tough one,” Leamy said. “We played well, we were on the ball, we started better than the game the week before.”
Missouri State ended the season with a 9-2-6 record and will look to swing their strong 2018 season into the 2019 campaign.
“(We had a) fantastic season overall,” Leamy said. “We only lost two games and not many teams can say that.”
MSU will graduate five seniors but will retain the scorers of 20 of their 26 goals this season. Leamy said the seniors meant more than just statistics.
“Those five seniors were massive for the team this year,” Leamy said. “They meant so much, we have a lot of space to fill next season.”