University of Wisconsin-Superior’s James Bruce wasn’t to be denied twice Saturday, Nov. 3, at the NBC Spartan Sports Complex.
With the score tied 1-1, the junior forward on the Yellowjacket men’s soccer team scored the apparent go-ahead goal on a header with 25 minutes remaining in the UMAC championship game with the College of St. Scholastica Saints.
But it was ruled that he, along with a teammate, bumped into Saints keeper Corey Bulheller and the goal was disallowed.
“They said I took him (Bulheller) out, but I jumped straight up,” Bruce said. “I just had to keep my head in the game and put in the next chance I got.”
Bruce got that chance a minute later when he found himself alone in front of Bulheller and scored his team-leading 15th goal on a center from Blake Perry with 23:02 remaining, giving UWS a 2-1 lead.
“Our freshman on the team, Blake Perry, put a cross to me and I was able to sneak around the defender and get open,” Bruce said. “When I saw the ball right in front of the goal, I wasn’t going to miss. It felt absolutely incredible.”
Less than two minutes later Eric Watson sealed the 3-1 victory when he took a pass from Miguel Ocampo and hammered the ball past Bulheller.
“When it was 1-1 I knew we were going to get back after it,” UWS coach Joe Mooney said. “Then when they took the goal back, I knew that was just the start, too, because we’ve done so much work on the mental side of things this season and I think that’s why we responded so well.”
Superior’s mental aspect of the game also helped in Wednesday’s semifinal when it trailed Crown 2-1 early in the second half then scored four straight goals for the 6-2 win.
Bulheller finished with seven saves for the Saints (11-8-2), while Dalton VonKaenel had six for the Yellowjackets (18-2-1), who will take a 19-game unbeaten streak, including 14 straight wins, into its second straight NCAA Division III tournament.
UWS opens against Augsburg (12-3-4) Friday, Nov. 9, in the St. Thomas regional.
The Tommies (14-3-2) are the host team and will host Pacific Lutheran (13-5-2). The winners will play on Saturday or Sunday.
The Yellowjackets defeated the Auggies 4-1 at home on Sept. 11. UWS also lost to St. Thomas 2-0 on Aug. 31.
“I think that we’ve seen some of the best teams in the region and we feel we can compete with everybody right now,” Mooney said. “That’s what the tournament is all about, right.”
VonKaenel’s biggest saves came early and late in the game.
Nine minutes into the game the Saints sent a corner kick toward the goal when VonKaenel punched the ball off the crossbar.
“I saw it coming at me and I just tried to get everything I could on it,” VonKaenel said. “Luckily it went over the net.”
VonKaenel punched another ball off the crossbar with 11:36 remaining then made two saves in the final two minutes.
“They really pressed at the end,” VonKaenel said. “They knew they were down two goals and had to get something going, but we were very solid on the back line and any shots that got close to me were right at me so I could make some easy saves.
“A lot of the credit goes to the defense. They made it easy for me.”
Mooney also praised his junior keeper.
“He was lights out tonight and we needed it,” Mooney said.
Blake Doyea gave UWS a 1-0 lead with his fourth goal in the 14th minute. The scoring play started with a VonKaenel goalie kick to Fernando Bicalho, who found Bruce on the right side. Bruce’s center was corralled by Doyea, who tapped the ball around a diving Bulheller.
“I saw them drop back so I took advantage of it, took a little speed and got in there and just got my foot on top of it,” Doyea said. “It all started with a keeper kick and ended with Bruce making a nice cross. I knew I had to make it a first-touch, because if I waited I knew there was a guy behind me or the keeper would get back in the play.
“It felt great to get the lead. We knew they would come back, but we just fought through it. I’m so proud of every one of these guys.”
The Saints tied the game 1-1 on Darby Henderson’s header 9:10 into the second half with an assist from Jordan Finneran.
The Yellowjackets will learn their postseason fate at noon Monday in the Division III men's soccer selection show on ncaa.com.
CSS now leads the all-time series with UWS 14-7-6.
’JACKET JOTTINGS: With the game-winning goal and an assist in the final, Bruce was named the Tournament MVP. He also added a pair of goals in the 'Jackets' semifinal victory. … UWS and CSS have played in four straight UMAC title games. The Saints won the first two matches and the Yellowjackets won on a shootout last year. … Watson led the Yellowjackets offensively with four shots, while Bruce and Perry each had three. … Bruce now leads the conference with 35 points. … During the regular season, the Yellowjackets defeated Saints 4-1 and they tied 1-1.
Championship Series History
2015 -- The Saints won 5-0 at Ordean Field. UWS went down a man early in the game with a red card.
2016 -- The Saints would get two red cards in the contest, but survived to penalty kicks where they would advance 3-2.
2017 -- UWS won 4-2 in penalty kicks at Public Schools Stadium.
St. Scholastica 0-1--1
First Half -- 1. UWS, Blake Doyea 4 (James Bruce, Fernando Bicalho), 30:29.
Second Half -- 2. CSS, Darby Henderson 2 (Jordan Finneran), 35:50. 3. UWS, Bruce 15 (Blake Perry), 23:02. 4. UWS, Eric Watson (Miguel Ocampo), 21:06.
Saves -- Corey Bulheller, CSS, 2-5--7. Dalton VonKaenel, UWS, 1-5--6.