BOILING SPRINGS N.C. (www.BigSouthSports.com) - In its third consecutive meeting in the first round of the Big South Conference tournament, No. 2 Gardner-Webb was able to hold on in the second half to secure a 2-1 over No. 7 Winthrop in the fourth game of the 2011 Big South Men's Soccer Championship Thursday at Greene-Harbison Field on the campus of Gardner-Webb University. The host Runnin' Bulldogs will play No. 6 High Point on Friday at 7:00 pm in the semifinals.
The Runnin' Bulldogs got the first offensive threat in the 9th minute, but midfielder Richie Wall was unable to cash in on a threatening through ball and the score remained 0-0 early. A run by Second Team All-Conference defender Jovan Ivanovich won GWU a corner kick in the 11th minute, but Eric Asanin-Miroux's attempt went out of bounds.
A run by Winthrop forward Andres Pullin penetrated the Runnin' Bulldog defense, but he was fouled and unable to get a shot off. The physical play continued early in the first period as the teams combined for nine fouls in the game's first 25 minutes. Gardner-Webb All-Freshman forward Denzel Clarke broke free in the 24th minute, but he was fouled to set up a free kick by Asanin-Miroux that went far.
Strong defensive play for both teams, led by GWU's First Team All-Conference defender John Ole Reinhardsen and WU's Second Team All-Big South defender Alex Isern, kept the match scoreless early.
Gardner-Webb broke through off the foot of Wall in the 29th minute, who got behind the Winthrop defense, received a pass from midfield from Asanin-Miroux and flicked a ball over Eagle goalkeeper Enrique Miranda and into the goal to put the Runnin' Bulldogs on top 1-0. The goal was the second on the season for the GWU senior.
Miranda rebounded as Gardner-Webb continued to press aggressively on the Winthrop side of the field, earning a save in the 34th minute off a shot by Jalen Gathers to keep GWU's lead at 1-0.
Both defenses stayed physical to prevent frequent offensive looks for the other, as strong play from Wintrhop's Daniel Dibagio and Gardner-Webb's Eric Yeager kept the score the 1-0 late in the first half.
In the 45th minute, GWU scored its second goal of the game when Clarke was able to beat Miranda on the left side of the goal from eight yards out to push GWU's lead to 2-0. The shot came after Gardner-Webb midfielder John Sargeant maneuvered through a crowded Winthrop box to find Clarke for his fourth goal of the season.
The physical first half, which saw a combined 15 fouls between the two teams, ended in a 2-0 lead in favor the Runnin' Bulldogs.
Gardner-Webb continued to attack, earning free kicks in the 48th and 49th minutes. The attempts from Asanin-Miroux went wide however and the score remained 2-0. Winthrop countered, earning a corner kick in the 51st minute but was ultimately called for offsides. GWU followed with a cross from Gathers toward the Winthrop goal, but it was gathered by Miranda to prevent the Runnin' Bulldogs from cashing in.
GWU got a great offensive look in the 54th minute off an effective flick by Chris Davis to Clarke inside the Winthrop box. Clarke headed it on frame, but the shot was saved by a well-positioned Miranda.
Winthrop was able to generate some offensive looks in the second half thanks to effective runs by Pullin and good thru balls from Isern, keeping the pressure on the Runnin' Bulldogs' 2-0 lead. GWU was able to attack in the second half as well, as a shot by Seargent from 20 yards out straight on in the 65th minute was put on frame but saved by Miranda. Miranda recorded another save in the 67th minute off a Davis shot attempt, diving to keep the Runnin' Bulldogs from increasing its lead.
Winthrop's increased second half pressure on GWU's defensive third paid off in the 68th minute, as forward Alex Mantchev beat Runnin' Bulldog keeper Scott Krotee after taking an assist from Mason Lavallet in the box and firing it home to cut the Eagles' deficit to 2-1.
Lavallet put a shot on frame in the 71st minute, but Krotee denied his attempt with a diving save to preserve the Runnin' Bulldogs 2-1 lead. Winthrop got another good shot at an equalizer in the 78th minute, but a Mantchev header went wide. GWU countered in the 82nd minute off a header from Clarke, but Miranda recorded his seventh save of the night to keep the Eagles hopes alive. Krotee gave the Runnin' Bulldogs his third save of the match in the same minute, as a shot on goal by Sean Comer to keep the score at 2-1.
Gardner-Webb nearly broke through in the 84th minute when Gathers played a cross to Clarke in the box, who headed it inches above the crossbar and the score remained 2-1.
Winthrop earned a corner kick in the 87th minute after an effective offensive attack, but the attempt went awry and the Runnin' Bulldogs held on to the one goal lead.
After GWU was called for offsides in the 89th minute, Winthrop earned a corner kick in the 90th minute, but the Runnin' Bulldogs were able to clear. The Eagles recovered and got the ball into the air in the Gardner-Webb box, and for a moment appeared to score the equalizer, but a scoring attempt in the final minute of play was called off after a handball and GWU was able hold on for the 2-1 victory.
Gardner-Webb improves to 9-7-3 on the year, while Winthrop ends its season at 7-12. The No. 2 Runnin'Bulldogs move on to face No. 6 High Point in the Conference tournament semifinal round for the second-straight year and are scheduled to play Friday at 7:00 pm. Gardner-Webb defeated High Point for the first time in its history 2-0 during the 2011 regular season and is 1-5-2 all time against the Panthers.
Gardner-Webb Head Coach Tony Setzer
"We were able to take advantage of playing at home and really needed it in a fight to the end with Winthrop tonight. Winthrop's a class program, and (Winthrop head coach) Posipanko is a good friend in this profession. I'm glad that we were able to win for our fans tonight and survive to advance to the next round."
Winthrop Head Coach Rich Posipanko
"Obviously disappointed with our performance in the first half. I thought we gave a better effort in the second half. I think it was obvious Gardner-Webb wanted the game more than we did. We weren't able to match their intensity and work rate. Best of luck to Gardner-Webb in the next game."