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Virginia wins NCAA Tournament first round

Bates' late header lifts team past Lafayette

The Virginia men’s soccer team earned a dramatic victory against Patriot League champion Lafayette in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Thursday afternoon.

In a highly physical, defensive-oriented affair, the Cavaliers (10-6-4, 3-4-1 ACC) stole the win with a headed goal from senior captain Will Bates in the 88th minute off a corner kick.

“We’re finding a way to win at this point in the year,” coach George Gelnovatch said. ”We’re happy to move on.”

After losing its first round NCAA matchup the previous two seasons, Virginia will now advance to the second round to play No. 13 seeded New Mexico in Albuquerque this Sunday. Beyond its immediate implications, the win was even more impressive given the remarkable youth of the roster.

“Each game will bring something different,” Gelnovatch said. “And today we found a way [to win] as opposed to the last two years. And we did it with a much younger team. To me we are taking it one game at a time, the future is now, but the longer we keep playing with this younger team the better.”

The first half was scoreless and marred with sloppy play, hard fouls and controversial calls. The referees dictated the pace by munificently allowing play to continue through, at times, excessive amounts of contact. At one point, play was forced to halt as the referees futilely ordered the game to clean up.

The Leopards (9-8-4, 3-1-3) exhibited a tenacious style of play and looked unafraid of their major conference opponent. Despite its small conference labor, Lafayette relied on its great size, experience and athleticism to be quite a formidable foe.

“Most of their success has come out of their physicality, size, determination [and] organization,” Gelnovatch said. “They’re an experienced team too, they’re mostly older guys. That’s why they are the Patriot League champions and are hard to break down.”

Virginia’s best chance to score in the first half came in the seventh minute when freshman Marcus Salandy-Defour whipped a low cross to Bates. Bates then made a nifty pass while spinning around a defender, getting the ball to freshman Darius Madison in the box. Madison one-timed the ball toward goal but narrowly missed left.

Lafayette had an early opportunity to score only five minutes in when Senior Kyle Scharfenberg hooked a perfectly placed cross into the box to junior Alec Golini, the Leopards’ leading scorer this season. Golini, however, narrowly missed making contact with his head and the ball passed by harmlessly.

In the 20th minute, Scharfenberg then stole an egregiously lazy back-pass by a Cavalier defender in the attacking zone and made a quick counter run into the box.

A trailing Virginia defender then seemingly pulled down Scharfenberg from behind, causing the well-traveled Lafayette fan base to cry for a penalty kick, but no call was made. Gelnovatch admitted to being “very worried” that a call was going to be made.

“Luckily the calls went our way on those,” Bates said. “But we’ll take it.”

Lafayette held a 6-2 shot advantage at the halftime break, but the quality of the play improved slightly in the second half as the Cavaliers made a concerted effort to work the ball around the field more, which created increased opportunities to score.

The heralded Lafayette defense, which allowed only one goal per game this year, was stout and well-organized all game long, not allowing any Cavalier attacking advance to be easy.

“It’s tough to play good soccer when the other team is very direct,” Bates said. “It’s hard to get in any kind of rhythm.”

In the 55th minute, Salandy-Defour created space for an open shot as he beat his marker down the left wing with his speed and displayed his prodigious ball skills slipping into the box. A well-placed Leopard backline, however, blocked the resulting shot innocuously out of bounds.

In the waning minutes Virginia earned a series of corner kicks, with the last one proving to be decisive. Freshman Scott Thomsen served a perfect ball into the box and Bates sealed off multiple Lafayette defenders long enough to meet the ball with his head. His header proved to be a rocket and it fired over the head of Lafayette goalkeeper junior Nathan McDonald.

Bates, in his typically demure fashion, downplayed his role in the sensational game-winning goal.

“I literally just stood still,” Bates said. “Scotty put a great ball in. It just landed right on my head, the little separation I created. And it ended up going in the back of the net.”

The goal was Bates’ 12th of the season, as he has led the Cavaliers in scoring all four years on the team. It also marked Thomsen’s team-leading 7th assist of the season, with the majority coming off of free kicks and corner kicks.

Lafayette actually outshot Virginia 13-8, but rarely threw a real challenge to sophomore goalkeeper Spencer LaCivita as only two managed to be on goal.

The Cavaliers will fly to New Mexico Friday to allow themselves time to acclimate to the changed altitude and will face off against the Lobos at 9 p.m. Sunday.