Men’s soccer captures Horizon League crown, gets first-round bye in NCAAs

A year after falling to Green Bay in the 2009 Horizon League Championship on penalty kicks, the Butler men’s soccer team got revenge, taking the 2010 title over the Phoenix (13-4-2) in identical fashion.

Freshman forward Austin Oldham gave Butler (16-0-2) a 1-0 lead at the 36th minute after connecting on a shot from 15 yards out, sending the ball just past Phoenix sophomore goalkeeper Ryan Wehking and into the back of the net.

With just two minutes remaining in the match, it seemed that the Bulldogs had solidified the win, but Phoenix freshman forward David Bernhardsson scored in the 89th minute to tie the match and send the contest into overtime.

The Bulldogs had two scoring opportunities in the two overtime periods, but Wehking managed to stop both.

Butler finished with a 16-13 edge in shots in the match and both teams had five shots on goal. The contest also featured 42 fouls and seven yellow cards.

Regardless, the match would end in a similar fashion to last year when the Horizon League Championship was decided on penalty kicks.

“Any time there’s that kind of pressure on you, it just compels you to go out and get it done, and that’s exactly what we did,” Butler head coach Kelly Findley said.

The championship was decided when sophomore forward Julian Cardona gave Butler its second successful penalty kick.

Senior goalkeeper Fabian Knopfler, who recorded three saves, stopped Green Bay senior mid-fielder Scott Raymonds’ attempt to even the score, earning the Bulldogs the win and the Horizon League Championship. The tournament title was Butler’s first since 2001 and fifth all-time. Before the title rematch with Green Bay, the Bulldogs needed to get past Cleveland State in the semifinals.

The match featured a showdown between the Horizon League’s offensive player of the year, Sippola, and the league’s top goalkeeper, Cleveland State’s Brad Stuver. Sippola proved to be the deciding factor that got top-seeded Butler a 2-1 victory over fourth-seeded Cleveland State.

“It’s hard to beat a team twice in a year,” Findley said. “I think that tying  Cleveland State the week prior really motivated us for the semifinal match.”

The Bulldogs (16-0-2), ranked sixth in the National Soccer Coaches of America Association national poll, were playing catch-up for more than 50 minutes of the match.

Cleveland State (8-10-1) grabbed a lead just over 20 minutes into the contest when senior defender Audric Kilroy took a long pass up-field from junior midfielder Manuel Conde and fired a shot past Knopfler. It was the first time this season that the Bulldogs trailed in a match.

The Vikings, who tied Butler 0-0 just a week ago at the Butler Bowl, took the 1-0 advantage to halftime and held it through the first 30 minutes of the second half.

Despite the absence of freshman forward Adekunle Oluyedun, a key contributor, the Bulldogs did not panic.

Cardona drove a shot from 25 yards out just past a diving Viking goalkeeper. It was Cardona’s fourth goal this season.

“I think that we just decided in the second half that we didn’t want to lose the game,” Sippola said. “Thinking about the win and the conference championship, we all just made a collective decision to go after those things.”

With 43 seconds left in the match, Butler senior mid-fielder Jacob Capito was tripped in the penalty box, setting up a penalty kick for the Bulldogs. Sippola, the Horizon League Player of the Year, took it from there.

He sealed the deal by sending a shot into the back of the net, tallying his eighth goal of the year, a win for the Bulldogs and a spot in the championship match.

For their regular season efforts, the Bulldogs received the 13th seed and a bye for the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Butler will face the winner of the first-round match between Oakland University and Michigan State University. Findley said he knows it will be difficult for his team to continue its impressive run in tournament play.

“You know anytime you’re ranked in the top 25 or seeded high, everyone is trying to knock you off,” he said. “We know that regardless of who we play, they’ll be ready to get after it.”

Sippola said he sees Butler’s 13th seed as a recipe for success.

“Ranked 13th and with homefield advantage, I think we’re set up for success,” he said. “We’re a sleeper team. We don’t need all the attention of a high seed.

“Everybody likes the underdog.”