EVANS, GA – Junior defender Juan Miguel Fernandez scored only 4:03 into the title contest and Francis Marion University made that tally stand up with a tremendous defensive effort as the Patriots claimed the 2019 Peach Belt Conference Men's Soccer Tournament championship with a 1-0 victory over 21st-ranked Lander University on Sunday afternoon (Nov. 17).
Francis Marion improves to 15-4-1 and earns the PBC's automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Tournament that will begin this coming weekend. The entire tournament field and the regional pairings will be announced on Monday night. Lander, the second seed in the PBC Tournament, falls to 12-5-2 and must wait to see if the Bearcats receive an at-large bid.
Lander outshot FMU 17-7 and held a 6-3 edge in corner kicks. However, Patriot junior goalkeeper Maximiliano Rocco registered a season-high eight saves, six in the opening half and two in the second half. Rocco also posted his school-record 11th shutout of the year.
As a defensive unit, first-year head coach Luis Rincon's charges set a new single-season program mark with the 11 shutouts.
The lone score came early as senior midfielder Travis Cooke dribbled up the right sideline and passed to Fernandez near the right corner of the penalty area. Fernandez looked to possibly place the ball into the 6-yard area, but his attempt instead found the upper left corner of the goal setting off an early celebration on the Francois Marion sideline. It was Fernandez's first goal as a Patriot.
Unfortunately, only minutes later Fernandez was injured and left the stadium to receive treatment at a local hospital.
Lander put Rocco to the test over the next 20 minutes following the goal, forcing him to come up with six saves. However, one of the best opportunities for the Bearcats came in the 34th minute when a long Lander throw-in eventually landed at the feet of Robbie Young, but his open attempt from 17 yards out went wide right of the Patriot goal.
FMU nearly doubled its advantage with two minutes left before halftime. Freshman midfielder Alvaro Zamora gained possession after a deflection and tried to catch Lander goalkeeper Cole Hunter off his line with a quick 35-yard attempt, but the effort was wide to the left.
Another FMU scoring opportunity materialized in the opening minute of the second half. A Patriot throw-in was headed by several players before Zamora fired a 10-yard shot that Hunter smothered at the near post.
Rocco responded with two saves over the next five minutes to retain the FMU advantage. However, of the final seven Lander shots in the match over the last 33 minutes, none was on frame. An offside call against Lander disallowed a potential tying score in the final 10 minutes.
FMU sophomore midfielder Oliver Peters was named the tournament most valuable player, while three other Patriots were named to the All-Tournament Team: sophomore forward Javier Bello, sophomore defender Magnus Hoejland, and Zamora.
The tournament championship is the third for the Patriot men's program, joining trophies from 1999 and 2008. FMU is now 3-1 in championship match appearances. This will be Francis Marion's third appearance in the NCAA Tournament after previous bids in 2000 and 2008 (the 1999 crown did not result in an automatic national tournament berth).
The team's 15 victories equals the third-most wins in a season for the 44-year old program
Francis Marion Univ. (15-4-1) def. #21 Lander (12-5-2) 1-0
Date: 11/17/19 Attendance: 207
Weather: Pleasant, 64 degrees
Goals by period 1 2 Tot
Francis Marion Univ. 1 0 - 1
Lander.............. 0 0 - 0
1-0. 4:03 FMU Juan Fernandez (1) (Travis Cooke) - 10 served ball to 20 at top right corner
Shots: Francis Marion 7, Lander 17 ; Saves: Francis Marion 8 (Maximiliano Rocco 8), Lander 1 (Cole Hunter 1)