Francis Marion Men’s Soccer Patriots score early, hang on to win tournament title
Junior defender Juan Miguel Fernandez scored only 4:03 into the title contest and Francis Marion University made that tally stand up with a tremendous defensive effort as the Patriots claimed the 2019 Peach Belt Conference Men’s Soccer Tournament championship with a 1-0 victory over Lander University on Sunday.
Francis Marion improves to 15-4-1 and earns the PBC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Tournament that will begin this weekend. Lander, the second seed in the PBC Tournament, falls to 12-5-2 and must wait to see if the Bearcats receive an at-large bid.
Lander outshot FMU 17-7 and held a 6-3 edge in corner kicks. However, Patriot junior goalkeeper Maximiliano Rocco registered a season-high eight saves, six in the opening half and two in the second half. Rocco also posted his school-record 11th shutout of the year.
On defense, first-year head coach Luis Rincon’s charges set a new single-season program mark with the 11 shutouts.
The lone score came early as senior midfielder Travis Cooke dribbled up the right sideline and passed to Fernandez near the right corner of the penalty area. Fernandez looked to possibly place the ball into the 6-yard area, but his attempt instead found the upper left corner of the goal setting off an early celebration on the Francis Marion sideline. It was Fernandez’s first goal as a Patriot.
FMU sophomore midfielder Oliver Peters was named the tournament most valuable player, while three other Patriots were named to the All-Tournament Team: sophomore forward Javier Bello, sophomore defender Magnus Hoejland, and Zamora.
The tournament championship is the third for the Patriot men’s program, joining trophies from 1999 and 2008. FMU is now 3-1 in championship match appearances. This will be Francis Marion’s third appearance in the NCAA Tournament after previous bids in 2000 and 2008 (the 1999 crown did not result in an automatic national tournament berth).
The team’s 15 victories equals the third-most wins in a season for the 44-year old program.