Smiles scores early as ECSU holds on
Senior scores first goal in 50 matches to help Warriors advance
AMHERST, Mass. -- Senior back Aaron Smiles scored his first goal in 50 matches to give Eastern Connecticut State an early lead and the Warriors went on to a 2-0 victory against Springfield in the opening round of the NCAA Division III tournament at Hitchcock Field.
A winner of six of its last seven games, third-seeded Eastern (15-5-1) will face top-seeded Amherst College (15-1-2) Sunday at 1 p.m. in a second-round match at Hitchcock Field. Ranked fourth in Division III and first in New England, Amherst eliminated fourth-seeded Husson 4-0 in Saturday's second match.
The winner will move into the round of 16 next weekend at a location to be determined.
Smiles, who had not scored a goal since the eighth match of his sophomore year, gave the Warriors a 1-0 lead 12 minutes into action when he knocked the ball off the right post and past Springfield freshman keeper Brett Bascom. The play originated on a corner kick by sophomore back Christopher Giustina from the right side. The corner sailed through the box, where junior midfielder Carl Stensland collected it and found Smiles near the top of the box, who fired it off the right post.
The Warriors added a second goal with 8:38 left in the first half when sophomore forward Tom Vear scored his fourth goal of the season after being inserted into the lineup six minutes earlier on an assist from junior midfielder Jon DeCasanova.
Eastern senior keeper Carl Appel recorded his 10th shutout of the season -- 30th of his career. Appel needed only one save -- that coming when he grabbed the re-direct of a header by Drew Vanasse in the first 30 seconds of the second half. The shutout extended the second record to 14 for Eastern, which has won all but one of its matches this season by shutout.
Each team recorded 11 shots, but none by Springfield were dangerous. Appel's most difficult play came with Eastern leading 2-0 with 13 minutes left when he collided with Eric Stalsburg to break up a potential dangerous play at the left post, and clear the ball over the end line.
The Warriors nearly added a third goal inside the final minute of play when Stensland carried into the box, maintaining possession despite being tightly marked, and firing a low shot which carried wide of the left post.
The win against Springfield in the second meeting between the programs (Springfield eliminated Eastern in the first round of the 1975 ECAC tournament) and evens Eastern's postseason tournament record under fifth-year head coach Greg DeVito at 4-4. Last year, Eastern blanked Nichols 1-0 for its first NCAA win before the Warriors were eliminated in the second round by Bowdoin.
No current Eastern player has faced Amherst, which defeated the Warriors by a 2-1 score in 2007 at Hitchcock Field. The hosts won the game with a goal off a corner kick with 75 seconds left in regulation. A win Sunday ties the program record for wins in a season, set in 1969 and equaled two years ago.