ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Sophomore goalkeeper Pierce Holbrook made three key saves in the final 10 minutes of play Saturday night, preserving a 1-0 shutout victory for the No. 4 seed Navy men’s soccer team over fifth-seeded Lafayette in the Patriot League Tournament Quarterfinals at the Glenn Warner Soccer Facility.
A 25th-minute goal from junior midfielder Jason Aoyama proved to be the game-winner, as the Midshipmen improved to 6-4-8 overall and earned a semifinal trip to Boston on Tuesday, while the Leopards end their season at 9-6-4. The victory guarantees the Mids a winning record for the fourth-straight season, a feat that the Navy has not accomplished since 1973-80.
“This was a really good performance from our entire team,” said Navy head coach Tim O’Donohue. “I was really happy with how we played tonight against a good opponent and our guys stepped up in big moments. The team has improved all season long and I am excited for what this group can accomplish.”
Missing two starters in PL Midfielder of the Year David Jackson and freshman defender Jalen Grant, the Mids were still able to come out with offensive pressure in the opening half as junior forward Baba Kallie put a shot on goal from 21 yards out just 13 seconds into the contest that Lafayette’s Alex Sutton had to catch for the save.
Sophomore midfielder Noah Ward then forced Sutton to make another stop at 17′, while Holbrook stonewalled two on-target shots from the Leopards in the 18th and 20th minutes before freshman forward A.J. Schuetz fired a shot dead center that Sutton denied at 21′.
Aoyama broke the scoreless tie at 25′ when junior defender Zach Wagner launched a pass from the midfield line down to Kallie at the 20-yard mark. Kallie quickly crossed a pass to Aoyama inside the box and Aoyama firing a shot to the left post from 16 yards away.
Another Ward shot was stopped by Sutton near the right post at 30′, and Holbrook watched as a shot from Marco Kitromilides was blocked and Sebastian Tis’ shot sailed high in the 45th minute.
A slow start from both teams in the second half eventually led to Navy having two shots blocked in the 54th and 55th minutes, while Sutton picked up Aoyama’s low shot at 57′ before the teams traded chances for the next 20 minutes.
The game picked up in intensity once the clock hit the 80th minute, as Holbrook scooped up a Sebastian Varela shot from outside the box and Hale Lomboard had a shot blocked seconds later, while Varela sent another shot out to the left of the net in the following minute.
Holbrook used his jumps to save a Jack Borden shot at 86′, leaping to deflect Borden’s shot over the crossbar onto the top of the net, while the Navy defenders turned away a shot from Lawrence Aydlett off the ensuing corner kick and Eoin Martin shot the ball over the net a minute later. Navy nearly took a two-goal lead at 89′ when Ward put a shot on goal that Sutton saved, and Holbrook clinched the Navy win with 41 seconds left when he dove to his right to deflect Lombard’s shot over the crossbar again.
“From the start, the press was very good and we did a good job keeping their backs occupied,” said Aoyama. “Tonight, it was a full team effort. We’ve been working on playing a full 90 minutes and keeping focused to the very end, and we did that. We set a good example tonight and hopefully we can use that energy going forward.”
Holbrook ended his sixth clean sheet of the season with five saves, while Sutton tallied six saves on the opposite side.
Navy is now 26-17-4 all-time against Lafayette and picks up its first-ever postseason win over the Leopards.
Advancing to the Patriot League Semifinals for the second-straight campaign, Navy will now head to No. 2 seed Boston University on Tuesday, Nov. 6 for a 6 p.m. showdown with the Terriers at Nickerson Field.