Panthers season ends in 1-0 playoff loss

JJ Bullock, Assistant Sports Editor

The Eastern men’s soccer team could not come back from a first half Denver goal, as its season and playoff run came to an end in the first round of the Summit League playoffs Thursday in Omaha.

Denver scored the only goal it would need to beat Eastern in the 38th minute of the game when Blake Elder notched his second goal of the season from inside the box. He was assisted by Jacob Stensson on the play.

The Panthers came out just a little bit behind the Denver offense in the first half and that little bit was just enough for Denver to score a goal.

Denver had eight of its 11 total shots of the game in the first half.

“Denver really had a lot of control in the first half,” coach Kiki Lara said. “They had two or three really good opportunities so we were really just on our heals a little bit, defending hard. I think it was just a product of just them kind of leading us to the first ball, leading us to the second ball and having some quality.”

However, just as the first half of the game belonged to Denver, after making halftime adjustments, the Panthers came back into the second half, this time limiting the Denver offense to just three shots.

Lara said that Eastern rarely let the Denver offense cross into their side of the field very often, but offensively, the Panthers fell just short of tying the game.

Senior Zach Medawattage, who gave the Panthers a game-winning goal to send them to the playoffs, had the Panthers’ last shot of the game in the 84th minute get blocked by Denver’s goalkeeper.

Medawattage’s shot was the biggest of a couple opportunities that just slipped through Eastern’s fingers in the second half.

“We actually turned the tide and we looked very good in possession going side to side, and we just fell short in some of the final moments,” Lara said. “(Whether it was) the delivery of our cross or the final shot or the final set piece, we just really didn’t get the product we wanted out of possessions. Our possession was great and our defending was great in the second half and we put ourselves in a position to tie the game and we didn’t.”

Eastern finished the game with five total shots on offense.

Senior Mike Novotny, who won Summit League goalkeeper of the year for Eastern, finished the game with five saves.

Novotny is one of five seniors that played in their last game for Eastern in the playoff loss.

“We are going to miss some very good people and very good players, very good students and very good guys in our locker room,” Lara said. “We are going to miss our seniors that are leaving us.”

After the game Lara’s parting words to the seniors were a thank you for all the work they have put into the program.

“They have just done a great job of moving this program in a strong direction,” Lara said.

With the win, Denver will advance to the Summit League Championship game Saturday at 2 p.m. where they will play either Western Illinois or Omaha.

JJ Bullock can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]