Fairfield clinches MAAC title
Stags finish conference schedule with spotless record
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Jack Burridge scored three goals on Monday afternoon, lifting Fairfield to a 3-1 win against Manhattan in the MAAC tournament championship game The victory also earned the Stags an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.
"It is very satisfying and rewarding for all the hard work that this group has put in this year," Head coach Carl Rees said. "It almost seems that it was inevitable the way we would win games, coming from behind and scoring in the last minute several times. I am very happy for everyone involved with the program and the University."
Burridge scored in the 26th, 66th and 72nd minute of the game.
"Jack is just a natural goal scorer," Rees said. "You can't teach the instincts he has inside the penalty area. He knows how to solve problems tactically. He has lived and breathed football since he was a kid and that shows up in how he plays the game."
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The top-seeded Stags applied pressure throughout the opening 20 minutes of the game, getting half a dozen shots toward the Jasper goal. The frustration came to a quick end in the 26th minute when Manhattan was whistled for a foul just outside the box. Jon Clements stood over the ball and sent it toward the near post where Burridge was stationed. The forward went up and redirected the ball with a header, a shot which caught the far post before bouncing back across the line for a 1-0 lead.
The one-goal advantage remained through the start of the second half with each team getting a couple of chances. About 20 minutes into the half, the Stags were awarded a corner kick which again was sent to the near post. A Manhattan defender deflected the ball away, but the ball trickled to the feet of Burridge. He sent a shot back toward goal that went between the legs of goalkeeper George Ellis, giving the Stags a 2-0 cushion.
The final goal came with 18 minutes remaining off another set piece from Clements. The sophomore directed the free kick toward the far post giving an opportunity to Burridge. He cut on a diagonal from eight yards and found open space near the goal. He redirected the ball with a header that just tucked itself inside the post for a 3-0 advantage.
The Stags kept the Jaspers away from goal until late in the game when the team finally broke through in the final minutes. Goalkeepers Michael O'Keeffe and senior Doug Freeman joined forces for the afternoon to provide the defensive support necessary for the victory.
The win extended Fairfield's unbeaten streak to 13 games, sporting a 12-0-1 mark in that stretch. Fairfield improved its overall record to 12-4-1 and did not lose a game against a MAAC opponent this year (8-0-1 regular season and 3-0-0 in MAAC tournament).
"I am very happy for everyone who has worked so hard this season," Rees said. "I believe this team is worthy of an NCAA tournament appearances. We are proud to represent the MAAC as we play the nation's top teams in the NCAA tourney."
The win extended Fairfield's unbeaten streak to 13 games, sporting a 12-0-1 mark over that stretch. Fairfield improved its overall record to 12-4-1 and undefeated in conference play.