UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - On a day when one Major League Baseball team would end their decades long title drought, Penn State Hazleton's men's soccer team looked to end a 13-year championship drought of their own.
It would not be for the no. 3 seed Nittany Lions as they fell 1-0 to no. 1 seed Penn State Brandywine on Wednesday afternoon at the West Turf Fields on the Penn State University Park campus.
Not only was the Penn State University Athletic Conference title on the line, so too was a guaranteed trip to the United States Collegiate Athletic Association National Championship tournament. Announced a day earlier by the USCAA, both teams were aware that the winner would advance while the loser would be forced to wait another year for a shot at the National Championship.
Unlike their regular season meeting two weeks ago, this game was more of a defensive struggle than an offensive showcase. Brandywine had taken a 5-2 decision in Hazleton on Oct. 18th, scoring early and often to build a 4-2 halftime lead. The second half of that game better resembled the play of Wednesday's title game.
PSUAC Player of the Year Bill Walleekendeh left his mark in this one, scoring the games only goal in the 34th minute. After Brandywine had pushed the ball near the end line, a teammate found Walleekendeh near the top right side of the 18. With his back to the goal, Walleekendeh spun and drove right before firing a shot to the low left corner of the goal, beating freshman keeper Brandon Yocum (Bloomsburg, Pa.) in the process.
Three minutes later Hazleton would get their best chance to even the score. Senior Kyle Venditti (Berwick, Pa.) broke free with the ball as the Brandywine goalie and a defender converged on him. Venditti would draw a foul in the box for a penalty kick, but Brandywine's Joe Opdenaker would save the day as he dove to his left to stop Venditti's attempt and keep the Brandywine lead intact.
Although Hazleton would control the ball for much of the second half, Brandywine crowded the box and made it difficult for the Lions to get off shots. Hazleton managed only four shots total, including three on goal--only one of those shots would come in the second half. Brandywine managed 14 shots, with only five on target. Yocum recorded four saves for Hazleton while Opdenaker had three.
Hazleton was playing in their first conference title game since 2012, and seeking their first championship since back-to-back titles in 2002 and 2003. The Lions have played in five championship games since 2003, including this year.
Head Coach Jesse Shadle will return multiple starters in 2017 as the Lions look to end their title drought in the PSUAC and advance to the USCAA National Championship tournament for the first time in program history.