November 14, 2013

Drovers clinch SAC with win over St. Greg's

Adam Troxtell
The Express-Star


The words seemed commonplace, but the joy was still as evident as ever when the Drover men prevailed 2-0 over St. Gregory's University to lift the 2013 Sooner Athletic Conference championship.

It's the sixth conference title for the Drovers, and it was earned with a high-pressure, attacking performance that kept the Cavaliers on the back foot for most of the game and restricted them to just three shots on goal. It also sends them into the NAIA National Tournament that starts on Nov. 23.

It was a fairly even opening 20 minutes, with USAO slightly more threatening with their attacks. St. Gregory's best chance came with just under 10 minutes gone. USAO goalkeeper Bryan Byars' attempt to punch a ball clear fell to Jason Swift, who's first time volley went just high and wide of the right post. 

The deadlock was broken by Perry Sansford, who had only been on the pitch for a few minutes when he latched onto Stephen Owusu's diagonal pass from the right. Sansford put an expert first touch to good use before quickly rounding one defender and sliding in to poke the ball into the right side of the net and give the Drovers the lead.

With a strong breeze blowing for most of the first half, both teams had to deal with some unpredictable bounces of the ball. Drovers head coach Jimmy Hampton could be heard time and time again screaming from the touchline, telling his players to watch for the "second ball," or any defensive clearances that weren't quite good enough.

It was this advice that led to the second goal. A ball into right side could only be partially cleared by the Cavaliers, and USAO's Scottish midfielder Liam Madden found himself with the ball in plenty of space to line up a low shot that sailed into the left side of the net. It wasn't the most powerful of hits, but with many bodies in front of St. Gregory's towering goalkeeper Brock Vorwald he wasn't able to get a read on the ball until it was too late. 

The halftime lead could have been more with Nicolas Alberto applying loads of pressure on the Cavalier back line. His best chance came with under five minutes to go when his left-footed curling effort went just wide of the post. 

With two goals and the wind at their backs in both the figurative and literal sense, USAO held off an increasingly desperate Cavaliers team. Their high-pressing mentality forced the opposition into many aerial passes that struggled to hit their target in the breezy conditions. Mark McGrath, whose seven shots were a team high for the Cavaliers, managed his team's best chance when he broke free in the middle, put the ball on his left foot and sent the shot straight into the grateful arms of Byars.

Now the Drovers' attention turns to the national title, and confidence is understandably high.

"We know we can do it," central defender Scott Parkinson said. "I, personally, think the hardest part is winning this tournament. Once you get there, it's anyone's game. I'm just proud to be a part of it."