The No. 9 Missouri State men’s soccer squad had a busy day — winning a regular season Missouri Valley Conference title, celebrating senior night and beating Bradley 4-0.
The festivities started before the Bears even took the pitch when Southern Illinois University Edwardsville beat Loyola Chicago 1-0. This wrapped up an outright MVC regular season crown for the Bears, their third in three seasons.
Missouri State honored a senior class that has helped the program rise to national prominence and make back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances. The group of defenders Kyle Hiebert, Connor Langan and Greg Stratton, goalkeeper Michael Creek, midfielder Nicolas Torres and forwards Josh Dolling and Joel Peterson.
“This is an unbelievable senior class,” head coach Jon Leamy said. “When you look at the eight guys — and they are so close. They play for each other, and they have something special going.”
Once the game started, the Bears were all over Bradley, controlling play for the entire 90 minutes. While MSU did not manage to score in the first half, the Bears had several chances that barely missed the net.
After halftime, Missouri State figured out how to score on Bradley’s defense and erupted for four goals.
The first came from Dolling in the 54th minute. Dolling hammered the ball after a shot had been blocked to score his second of the year. It also counted as the game-winning goal, which made the game the 15th time in his career Dolling has scored the goal that won MSU a match.
“(The ball) just popped up to me nicely,” Dolling said. “I took the shot and scored. I knew as soon as we got on, we’d open it up and get a lot more.”
It did not take long for the Bears to get a lot more, as sophomore forward Simon Pedersen scored in the 70th minute and senior forward Joel Peterson scored twice in the 86th and 87th minute to put the game away 4-0.
“They were just focused today,” Leamy said. “It was a busy weekend with Halloween. But they came out — and the game didn’t come easy. We couldn’t get that goal in the first half, but we stayed on it and opened the field in the second. And it was good to see one goal turn into four.”
The senior night festivities also included Leamy. He is retiring at the end of the season, so several people had gifts for him. The team gave him a ball signed by the entire current roster, the other MVC coaches gave him a fishing pole and tackle box and Missouri State unveiled a large plaque on the east end of the field with his name and the years he coached.
“(Leamy’s) massive to everyone in this team,” Dolling said. “It’s always nice to have him around, and it’s so good to be able to do this for him. I’m glad it’s not ended yet because these last three years have been so good. We’ve still got more to do.”
The Bears will play one more regular season game at Loyola Chicago on Nov. 6. The following week will be the MVC tournament. Since MSU will be the top seed, all games the Bears compete in will be in Springfield.
Missouri State will start in the second round on Friday, Nov. 12.
Follow Stephen Terrill on Twitter, @stevethe2nd
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