Dec. 3, 2010

By Matt Rybaltowski

SAN ANTONIO - Though Zach Ward has been able to reach the box with his dynamic throw-in as early as seventh-grade , he has constantly worked to add distance with grueling tricep and core workouts.

In Friday's Division III Men's Soccer semifinals vs. Bowdoin College, the added off-field work paid off for the Lynchburg (Va.) College senior. Ward's throw-in found the head of teammate Stephen Brooks, who deflected it off the crossbar and into the upper-left netting for a 2-1 sudden-death overtime victory. The junior midfielder's goal unleashed a furious celebration by the Hornets' players, who swarmed Brooks by the right corner of the penalty box at Blossom Soccer Complex.

"Ward put a perfect throw right at me," Brooks said. "When I saw it coming, it was at a perfect height and a perfect trajectory. All I had to do was put a little flick on it and it looked like it was going to go to the back post. I saw the net flick back, so I knew it was in."

The unranked Hornets were held scoreless by Bowdoin for nearly 88 minutes in the thrilling contest. Lynchburg (20-4-1) equalized with 2:01 remaining when a shot by Hornets sophomore midfielder Scott Colman hit the chest of Bowdoin defender Sean Bishop and trickled into the left corner of the goal.

By the time Lynchburg coach Chris Yeager's heart rate slowed down, Bowdoin nearly re-took the lead. The Polar Bears almost scored on a hard shot just off the ground by junior midfielder Nick Powell, but Lynchburg goalkeeper Michael Releford made a sprawling, finger-tipped save. Bowdoin had several chances during a scrum near the goal line, but the Hornets found a way to clear the ball.

"We didn't want to lose like that," Releford said. "I'm not completely sure how I got to it, but I got it done."

Bowdoin (15-2-3) took a 1-0 lead early in the second half at the 52:52 mark when Michael Gale sent a direct kick from nearly 60 yards into the box. The ball took a bounce and was collected by freshman defender Ben Brewster, who tapped it into the goal.

Polar Bears coach Fran O'Leary credited Lynchburg for the comeback, but said his team didn't play aggressive enough with a 1-0 lead.

"When you're defending a one-goal lead in a big game for some reason the tendency is to sit back a little bit," he said. "If you don't get the second goal you leave yourself open to the opposition throwing balls into the box late in the game."

Though neither team scored in the first half, both failed to convert by mere inches. In the 21st minute, Lynchburg appeared to get on board on a header by Ward, but Polar Bears senior midfielder Tim Prior saved Bowdoin by heading it off the line.

Nearly 10 minutes later, Bowdoin had an even better chance when Eddie Jones had a point-blank opportunity on Releford. The freshman cut the angle down and denied Jones with a diving kick save. Then, eight minutes before the half Bowdoin senior Ben Denton-Schneider almost connected on a powerful blast past an extended Releford. The shot nearly found the upper-right corner of the net, but carried just wide.

Lynchburg, a program which won its first-ever NCAA tournament game last season, advances to face two-time defending champion Messiah on Saturday. The Hornets have already defeated the nation's top two teams in Ohio Wesleyan and Trinity (Texas).

"(Messiah are) a dominant power in Division III, but I like our chances," Yeager said.