MANCHESTER, N.H. – Redshirt senior Alex Manea broke a 1-1 tie in the 60th minute and goalkeeper Mikko Sarkkinen made the goal stand the rest of the way as Mercyhurst defeated Southern New Hampshire 2-1 on Sunday afternoon to advance to the NCAA semifinals for the first time since 2002. The Lakers improved to 17-5-1 on the season while the Penmen ended their season at 19-4-0.
The victory sends Mercyhurst to the semifinals for the third time in program history and in both prior instances, the Lakers suffered a loss in the national semifinals. In 2002, the Lakers dropped a 2-1 decision to Southern New Hampshire in the, ending their season with a 17-2 record. The Lakers also fell in 1995.
Sarkkinen, who has been pressed into services in the Lakers’ playoff run due to an injury to senior goalkeeper Diego Gustin, was brilliant again for Mercyhurst on Sunday. He improved to 4-0-0 on the season with three of his victories coming during the NCAA playoffs. He got some help from the goal post on a couple of occasions but made some huge saves for the Lakers when he needed to. He stopped five Penmen shots in the victory as Southern New Hampshire held a 14-3 shot advantage over the Lakers.
However, despite only attempting three shots the entire match, the Laker offense cashed in twice. Senior Austin Solomon dented the scoreboard first at 25:54 of the first half with his eighth goal of the season. Manea and Solomon entered the attack zone on a 2-on-1. Manea sent a pass ahead to Solomon who then floated a one-timer to the top left corner of the cage, over the head of Southern New Hampshire goalkeeper Dom Dimaggio for a 1-0 Mercyhurst advantage.
The Penmen would respond when the team’s leading scorer Chris Tsonis scored his 16th goal of the season in the 40th minute. Kenny Doublette sent a cross to the front of the net that was redirected in by Tsonis, tying the match at 1-1.
Southern New Hampshire held a 5-1 shot advantage in the first half and also held a 4-1 margin in corner kicks in the opening 45 minutes.
In the second half, the duo of Manea and Solomon struck again, this time with Manea being the beneficiary of the goal. Solomon sprinted down the left sideline and crossed a pass to the front of the cage. He found Manea, who buried his team-leading 16th goal of the season, giving the Lakers a 2-1 lead. It would prove to be Manea’s sixth game-winning goal of the season.
Sarkkinen took over from there, making three saves over the last 30 minutes of regulation to preserve the victory.
Southern New Hampshire attempted nine shots in the second half to Mercyhurst’s three. The Penmen also had a 3-1 corner kick advantage in the second half. All told, Southern New Hampshire outshot Mercyhurst 14-3 and had a 7-2 corner kick advantage. But, Sarkkinen proved to be the difference, turning aside five Penmen shots on goal. Meanwhile, Dimaggio did not make a save the entire afternoon.
Mercyhurst (17-5-1) will play Lynn (16-2-1) in one of the two semifinal matches on Nov. 29. Lynn advanced by defeating Rollins in the quarterfinals. Mercyhurst has never played against Lynn.
Meanwhile, in the other semifinal match, former GLIAC foe Saginaw Valley State (17-2-4) will square off against Simon Fraser (19-1-1). The final two rounds are being held at Blanchard Woods Park in Evans, Ga.