EVANS, Ga. — Lynn hadn’t encountered all that many problems this season, but there was one it was able to put to rest in short order Thursday afternoon.
In fact, it took the Fighting Knights all of 36 seconds into the Men’s Soccer Champsionship semifinal match against Mercyhurst to do it.
That’s when Julian Halder scored the first of his two goals on the day to open the scoring in what eventually resulted in a 4-1 Lynn victory at Blanchard Woods Park. Jack Winter and Anthony Desperito added goals later, putting Lynn in front 4-0 before Ryan Lund tallied Mercyhurst’s lone goal in the 82nd minute to avert the shutout.
|2012 DII CHAMPIONSHIP|
Championship: Lynn 3, Saginaw Valley 2
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Semis: Lynn 4, Mercyhurst 1
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The victory lifted Lynn into the championship final for the second consecutive year and for the third time since it last won the national title in 2003. Lynn lost in the final last year to Fort Lewis.
“We’re extremely excited to be going back to the final,” Lynn coach John Rootes said. “Mercyhurst was a fine team. They did a great job of keeping possession of the ball, and they’re a fine passing team. They had a lot of the possession, which was surprising to us.
“I think the key to the game was us scoring early. Julian’s quick goal at the beginning of the game took the pressure off of our team and allowed us to focus on defending. I think that made an incredible difference.”
It made such a difference because Rootes had seen his team struggle in some games this season, despite a record that is now 18-3-1, precisely because it had not been able to get off to quick starts against some opponents.
“That’s been one of our problems all season long,” Rootes said. “We’ve played well and had a lot of possession, but haven’t scored early. We’ve let teams hang around against us. Our game plan, and we talked about it a lot, was that we really wanted to work hard the first 15, 20 minutes and get an early goal. Scoring that early certainly helped our confidence and certainly hurt Mercyhurst’s (confidence).
“Sometimes, too, when you score that early, the team can let down. I was a little bit afraid of that, where our team would think, ‘OK, we’ve got this now’ when we still had 89 minutes left to play. But our team is very mature and we did a very good job of keeping our focus. We did a good job of keeping our concentration and that was key.”
Halder agreed that his shot that found the upper right corner of the net so early in the contest was important for the Fighting Knights.
“Like Coach said, we’ve pretty much struggled all year to put the ball in the net,” said Halder, Lynn’s leading scorer on the year with 11 goals. “So I was really happy to get that early goal and relieve some of the pressure. We were really efficient.
“I scored two goals and I’m really happy about that. We really handled our emotions.”
His second goal came on a sweet assist from Winter, who got loose in the right corner and made a perfect crossing pass across the middle. Halder was waiting on the far side of the goal and headed it in. The goal in the 32nd minute gave Lynn a 2-0 lead that it took into halftime.
“Jack had a really good effort on the right side of the pitch and made a great breakaway and crossed the ball perfectly to the far post,” Halder said. “It was not easy to head it in, but I was glad to put it away and score that second goal. I thank (Winter) for that assist.”
Winter said it was a matter of taking advantage of chemistry he has spent all season developing with Halder, a graduate student who missed much of last season with a foot injury.
“We’re starting to build a partnership now,” Winter said. “I know where he’s going to be normally, sitting on that back post. So I know if I can deliver the ball to that area, he’s going to get it.”
Winter later added his own unassisted goal, as did Desperito, giving Lynn a 4-0 lead in the 81st minute. Lund was able to find the net for Mercyhurst shortly thereafter, but it was way too little and way too late.
The loss snapped a nine-game winning streak for the less experienced Lakers, who nonetheless ended the season with an outstanding 17-6-1 record.
“Two of the goals we gave up came on mistakes,” Mercyhurst coach Dale White said. “Obviously we were always going to be the underdog, but if you take those away and it’s 2-1 when we score, then maybe we can have more of an impact on the game.
“As for the season, we lost our first three games of the year. So for the boys to come back when everybody had written us off after three games, it’s a real credit to these guys. The way they carried themselves and brought themselves back first into conference play and then through the regional play and to make the Final Four is just a phenomenal achievement.”
For Lynn, there is one more achievement left to pursue.
“Now we’re looking forward to the final,” Halder said. “It was a great game (Saturday), but we came here to play in the final and now we’re looking forward to that.”