Butler’s men’s soccer season came to a close on Sunday afternoon when the visiting Michigan State Spartans scored late in regulation to move on to the Sweet 16.
The match remained in a 0-0 deadlock until the 85th minute when Michigan State senior Jeff Ricondo rolled a shot into the left side-netting, just out of Butler senior goalkeeper Fabien Knopfler’s reach. Ricondo had checked into the game just five minutes prior to netting the game-winning score.
A three-year starter for the Spartans, Ricondo had been sidelined for more than a month due to injury. The score highlighted his return to action and sent Michigan State (13-7-1) to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1968.
“It’s been rough sitting for so long,” Ricondo said. “Waiting to come in, I just wanted to make a positive impact for us.
“I was lucky enough to get the goal. It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
Just as Ricondo won’t soon forget his winning score, Butler head coach Kelly Findley said his team will struggle with the memories of an opportunity that got away.
“I thought we played well enough to win the game,” Findley said. “In the end, it’s a cruel game.
“I am proud of the seniors for the effort they put in, but I am mostly disappointed for them—for them to not get something I thought they deserved today was a tough pill to swallow.”
The Bulldogs (16-1-3) outshot their opponent 15-6 but could not put one past the Michigan State senior goalkeeper Avery Steinlage.
Butler also owned a 7-2 advantage on corner kicks.
In the end, Michigan State’s defense, anchored by Steinlage, kept the game even and allowed for Ricondo’s goal to be the deciding factor. Steinlage recorded four saves, including a save while one-on-one with Butler senior Kyle Pateros midway through the second half.
The loss was the first of Butler’s season and ended a magical run, which saw them win the Horizon League and finish the year ranked fifth in the nation. The Bulldogs’ 16 wins marks the most by a Butler squad since 1998 and the third-most in school history.
Senior midfielder Ben Sippola led the Bulldogs in scoring this season with eight goals and was honored as Horizon League Player of the Year for his efforts.
Despite bowing out to Michigan State, Sippola recognized the historic campaign that he and his teammates were part of.
“I set high goals at the beginning of the season,” Sippola said. “And the only one that we didn’t accomplish as a group was winning the NCAA Championship.
“It was a great season filled with a lot of great memories.”