WALTHAM, Mass. – Brandeis senior Sam Ocel headed home a cross from Lee Russo with just 29.4 seconds left in regulation to lead the Judges past visiting Vassar and into the third round of the NCAA tournament. With the win, the Brandeis men join their counterparts on the women’s side in the Round of 16 as they improve to 18-2-1 on the season. Vassar sees its campaign come to a close at 13-5-3. The Judges will move on to face Williams College on Saturday, Nov. 17.
The game-winning exchange started at midfield. Sophomore back Robbie Lynch fired a long throw-in from midfield to Russo. Russo took a touch to the right side of the 18-yard box. He fired a cross that Ocel was able to get a head on to redirect past the outstretched arms of Vassar goalkeeper Ryan Grimme.
Ocel’s game-winning goal capped a frantic final 13 minutes that saw the teams move back and forth across the field. The game got even more frenetic in the final six minutes, when Vassar denied a Brandeis corner at the 83:57 mark. The Brewers’ clearance turned immediately into a corner of their own less than a minute later. The visitors had a fine opportunity when senior Zander Mrlik, who scored the game-winner in Vassar’s 1-0 win against Tufts the previous night, lept and got a head on the ball, but Judge junior midfielder Kyle Feather was there to clear the ball off the line with a header of his own.
Ocel had the game’s next shot as the clock crept under five minutes left in regulation, but VC’s Ryan Grimme came up with his seventh save of the night. After the teams sent the ball back and forth, the game-winning exchange took place. The goal was Ocel’s 13th of the season, nine of which have been game-winners. He has scored the game-winning goal in Brandeis’ last three games and five of the last six.
Both teams had opportunities to break the deadlock throughout the rest of the contest, including a pair of goals that were negated by offside calls. In the first half for Vassar, the Brewers were flagged in the 43rd minute. A long throw-in by Nick Hess was headed by Mrlik through the box to sophomore forward Tom Wiechert, who was ruled to be offside before his ensuing header found the back of the net. Three minutes into the second half, it was the Judges who were burned when Russo hit the far post and Feather was flagged despite his redirection into the goal.
Grimme made seven saves in the losing effort and Brandeis senior Blake Minchoff had three. Grimme opened the game with a stop on Feather in the second minute, batting a strike from the top of the box over the crossbar. Minchoff’s top save came in the 31st minute when he dived and got his chest in front of a blast from Simon Whitelaw, who sent the ensuing rebound wide. The Judges also had another defensive save off a corner in the 20th minute, when sophomore Matt Brondoli denied Mrlik.
Brandeis advances to the Round of 16 in its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1985. Before this season, the Judges had not won an NCAA tournament game since 1984, when they reached the national finals.