The Mack Report

Men’s Soccer: Merrimack Falls in NE-10 Title Game; Awaits NCAA Fate

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MANCHESTER, N.H. — A first-half goal by Southern New Hampshire superstar Pierre Omanga proved to be the difference as the Penmen picked up their second straight NE-10 championship over Merrimack College, 1-0, on Sunday afternoon at Larkin Field.

Omanga’s goal, his 19th of the season, came in the 43rd minute when Jonathan Lupinelli sent in a low right-to-left cross to the box where Omanga headed past Merrimack keeper Jose Silva.

The Warriors (13-4-2) will now await the NCAA selection committee and tomorrow’s NCAA selection show on NCAA.com. The top six teams in the region will qualify for the NCAA tournament. In an odd shift, the Warriors fell from fifth to eighth in the last regional rankings, despite not losing a game during that voting period – they did tie Franklin Pierce.

“It’s out of our hands but I hope we’ll live to see another day, these guys deserve it,” Merrimack head coach Tony Martone said. “This is a special group, they’re a soccer family, and I hope we’re given the opportunity to play on next week. If we don’t, it’s been such a rewarding season. We have so many young players, no one expected anywhere near where we ended up today.”

Since the last regional rankings were released, Wilmington University and Mercy College, the two teams that sit in the spots separating Merrimack from the NCAA tournament berth, both did not play a game. Merrimack beat Franklin Pierce on penalty kicks Friday and then suffered this loss to No. 3 SNHU (18-1) in the NE-10 finals; other teams ahead of the Warriors suffered a loss as well.

Regardless of its NCAA fate, the Warriors, who graduated a sizable senior class off of a team that went to the NCAA tournament last season, exceeded nearly everyone’s expectations; everyone, that is, outside of the Merrimack locker room. The Warriors were ranked third in the NE-10 coaches poll.

“I’m very proud of these players,” Martone said. “I’m extremely proud of the effort of our players from top to bottom. They stuck together through thick and thin and I think we deserve to be int eh NCAA tournament but that’s out of our hands. But if it ends, from the coaching staff, to the support from the administration, it’s just been one of those very, very special years.”

The Penmen had 11 chances on corner kicks while the Warriors weren’t award any. Merrimack’s best chance late in the game came with about four minutes left. A foul called on the Penmen resulted in a free kick for the Warriors from the far sideline, but the chance was headed away by a Penmen defender and SNHU was able to keep possession for much of the final minutes.

Merrimack keeper Jose Silva made five saves and nearly helped score a goal of his own off of that free kick, where he moved all the way up to the attacking box on the offensive side to give the Warriors an extra man before hustling the length of the field back between his own pipes.

“We think he’s the best goalie in the country,” Martone said of Silva, who was named to the NE-10 All Tournament Team.

The Warriors, who played a double-OT game against Franklin Pierce in the semifinals on Friday, were forced to change their game plan in an effort to help the Warriors compete on tired legs; on Saturday, a day after Friday’s OT thriller, the Warriors didn’t practice, instead watching film and making sure players stayed hydrated for Sunday’s title game.

“Having played 110 minutes the other night, we opted to play a low-pressure game in the first half and counterattack, but (SNHU) is a great team and they’re well coached,” Martone said. “They found a way to put one in the back of the net and it held up.

“Late in the game we switched from a low-pressure 3-5-2 and took a back out and put an extra forward in and played with the pressure we normally play with to hopefully create a one or two chances and we did, you know with another good touch those might have turned into something but it wasn’t meant to be.”