ROCHESTER, Mich.- Taking on the Horizon League's second place team on the road, the Belmont University men's soccer team (2-11-3, 1-4-2) remained unfazed as it persevered with a 2-0 victory over the Oakland Golden Grizzlies (5-8-0, 4-3-0) Saturday night at the Oakland Soccer Field in Rochester, Mich.
Belmont picked up its first conference win and its first road win as it improves to 1-4-2 in league play and with its five points remains alive in the Horizon League postseason race.
"It's a great feeling and this gives us a lot of belief in what we have been doing. Oakland really put us under a lot of pressure and we held strong. It's huge to beat a team of their caliber, especially on the road," remarked Belmont Head Coach Bryan Green after his team's victory.
The young Bruins saw freshmen play starring roles in the victory as rookie Jack Driscoll's (New Albany, Ohio) score in the 27th minute put the Bruins ahead early on and classmate Eli Crognale's (Gahanna, Ohio) tally in the 83rd helped provide the Bruins with some late insurance. Fellow freshman Mertcan Akar (Cologne, Germany) recorded three saves as he registered his third clean sheet of the season.
"The young guys did well but it really was a total team effort. Mertcan was fantastic again and we also had some critical blocked shots. Jack and Eli came up big scoring and it's great to see that but the whole team was responsible for us getting in those situations. Then they made the plays to get us on the board," added Green.
After Belmont struck with the early tally, Oakland began its pursuit for an equalizer, but it was the Bruins who took the 1-0 lead into intermission. Oakland would continue its aggression on the attack, recording 15 second half shots, but the Bruins withstood the offensive barrage and held on for the pivotal win.
The Bruins have now recorded three shutouts in their last four Horizon League contests, allowing just one goal during that span.
In need of a strong start, facing a strong opponent on the road, the Bruins would get it when Driscoll's second goal of the season put the Bruins ahead 1-0 in the 27th minute. After Oakland had earned a clearance off a Bruin corner, the junior Balani swiftly won an ensuing challenge and quickly played the ball ahead to Driscoll. The rookie defender found himself in a one on one with the Oakland keeper and he cashed in from eight yards out to provide BU with the early advantage.
"At this point scoring early was important to get some positive feedback on all the good work we have been doing lately. All the attacking we had been doing finally paid off and it gave everyone confidence to keep doing it," said Green.
After some back and forth play, Belmont would carry a lead into the half for the first time this season. Oakland held the edge in terms of shots at 8-2, but it was Belmont who scored the only goal of the half.
To open the second stanza, Oakland came out determined to level with Belmont, but the Bruins would dodge punch after punch from the Golden Grizzlies. Belmont excelled in playing with the lead, showing great poise and Akar, who wasn't tested in the first 45 minutes, snatched three saves in the second half.
Oakland came dangerously close to equalizing in the 83rd when leading scorer Chase Jabbori hit the post with an attempt. But Belmont would earn the clearance and on the ensuing counterattack struck for its second score. Streaking up the pitch, Ben Santos-Meeker (Minneapolis, Minn.) and Jones would advance the ball up the field and in to attacking range. After a series of connecting passes, Jones would find Crognale who would net his first collegiate score. Crognale made a shifty move, catching the Oakland keeper off balance, and drilled a goal from 13 yards out to provide the Bruins with some breathing room.
Crognale, who leads the squad in shots and shots on goal, was the main offensive catalyst for the Bruins as he put three shots on frame Saturday night.
Austin Ricci led the Golden Grizzlies' attack as he squared up seven shots including one on frame.
Oakland was tabbed the preseason-co favorite to win the league and has won back-to-back Horizon League Championships.
After back-to-back strong offensive performances without a goal to show for it in matches against Northern Kentucky and Evansville and before that consecutive conference shutouts against Wright State and Green Bay, Belmont would finally break through for what ended up being some magic in Motown.
"Adriano Balani said it after the game, this is how we have been playing for the last several games and now we get to see the fruits of it. I think it gives the guys a lot of belief in what we have been doing and how they have been playing and approaching games and practices," added Green.
Belmont has just two regular season contests remaining as it looks to climb the Horizon League standings. The Bruins return to action Saturday, Oct. 29 when they travel to UIC.