MEN’S SOCCER: Toppers win in OT

Danny Schoenbaechler

As he stood in the team bus, David Holmes watched his team’s captain rescue the squad and maybe its season.

Senior midfielder Ben Buerger crushed a shot past Tulsa goalkeeper Brent Salter in the 14th minute of overtime, giving Western’s men’s soccer team (7-8-1, 1-5 MVC) a 2-1 victory.

“Tulsa is another good team,” said Holmes, Western’s coach. “It was a very important game for us.”

It was Buerger’s second overtime winner of the season – this one keeping Western’s postseason hopes alive. The win over Tulsa (9-6, 3-3) was the Toppers’ first in Missouri Valley Conference play this year.

“It was a big gut check for us,” freshman defender Clay McMillan said. “We knew we needed a win and going into the first overtime, the team was really emotional, and we knew we were going to go and score.”

Holmes was relegated to the team bus after being red carded earlier in the game.

It came after McMillan was tackled hard by a Tulsa player and the coach sprinted onto the field to voice his disapproval that no card was given for the blow.

“I protested a little vociferously,” Holmes said. “I’m concerned about our players, and that is why I reacted the way I did.”

So he watched through the bus windows as his team got a win that puts it in a tie for eighth in the Missouri Valley. Only eight of the 10 teams qualify for the conference tournament.

“I think that we are maturing,” Holmes said. “And I think that there are still some good moments ahead of us this season. We are trying to qualify for the conference tournament.”

The Toppers had lost their first five conference games and were trailing the Golden Hurricanes 1-0 at the half.

Freshman forward Steven Medlock put away the equalizer in the 54th minute, setting up Western’s fifth overtime of the season.

Just 26 hours earlier, Western played No. 5 Southern Methodist (12-1-2, 5-0-1).

The Toppers played another close game but lost 1-0 – the third one-goal loss in as many tries against ranked opponents this season.

“That was probably our best defensive effort of the year,” Holmes said.

Western was led by junior goalkeeper Daryl Sattler, who is leading the conference in saves with 96. Despite another close loss, the Toppers weren’t hanging their heads.

“We didn’t get frustrated,” Holmes said. “The coaches stayed up beat and the leaders on the team stayed up beat, and that really helped us on Sunday.”

With three games against three of the conference’s bottom-tier teams remaining, Holmes said Western still needs two wins to make the conference tournament.

“We really need to beat Evansville on Friday,” Holmes said. “And then we will need to win one of our last two. In this league, any team can beat anybody, and it is a really tough league from top to bottom.”

McMillan said that after Sunday’s win, he thinks that the Toppers can get the two they need.

“It is a very reachable goal,” he said. “Evansville is going to be a big game on Friday.”