MEN’S SOCCER: Two losses end Sun Belt hopes

Danny Schoenbaechler

There was one last glimmer of hope. But with one bad bounce, it was gone.

Western’s men’s soccer team was faced with a must-win situation Sunday but lost 2-1 to Southwest Missouri State (6-10, 4-3 Missouri Valley Conference).

The defeat left Western (7-10-1, 1-7) with no shot at postseason play, and left the team’s four seniors with a loss in their final home game.

With 10 minutes left in regulation, Western was tied 1-1 and looking for a game-winning goal. It came, but not for the Toppers.

Junior defender Ron Plute tried to clear a bouncing ball out of the box. But as he cleared it, the ball struck an SMS player and ricocheted back into Western’s goal. It was the decisive score.

The loss ended any chances of the Hilltoppers qualifying for the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.

“It was just a fluke goal,” junior goalkeeper Daryl Sattler said. “If we get that bounce, then maybe we would have won.”

Trailing 1-0 at the half, the Toppers turned to a familiar face to bring them back.

The Toppers had a free-kick from about 22 yards out, and senior midfielder Ben Buerger stepped up to take it.

Buerger crushed a bending ball into the top right corner of the net, just beyond the outstretched arms of goalkeeper Matt Pickens.

The equalizer came with 20 minutes left, setting up the heart-breaking game-winner.

“It was a nice run,” Holmes said. “I just feel bad for Ben. He’s had a wonderful season.”

A visibly disappointed Buerger said that he was pleased with his team’s effort.

“They played with a lot of heart,” he said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better way to go out. There was just a lot of heart on this field today.”

Sattler agreed that the Toppers played well, despite the loss.

“This was one of our best games of the season,” he said. “Sometimes things like this just happen.”

The Toppers played Evansville on Friday, losing 4-1. That set up a must-win Sunday. Even a tie would have kept Western’s hopes alive.

“We definitely played better (Sunday) than we did on Friday,” Holmes said.

Western was down 2-1 at the half to the Purple Aces.

Evansville then put the game away with two second-half goals.

“We went for the win against Evansville,” Holmes said. “But they just beat us.”

The Toppers were without the services of sophomore defender Scott DeGaris for the weekend. DeGaris suffered a pulled hamstring while playing against Tulsa last Sunday.

Holmes said that he hopes to have DeGaris back by Friday, but DeGaris hasn’t been cleared yet.

Western will play it’s final game of the season this Friday, a conference contest against Vanderbilt (3-14, 1-7).