Site: High Point, N.C. (Vert Stadium)
Score: #1 High Point 3, #3 USC Upstate 1
Records: #1 High Point (12-1, 8-0), #3 USC Upstate (6-4-2, 6-1-1)
Next HPU Event: The Panther’s next match will be decided in the NCAA Men’s Soccer Selection Show on Monday, April 19 at Noon.
HIGH POINT, N.C. – High Point men’s soccer won their first Big South Tournament Championship in program history, defeating USC Upstate, 3-1. The Panthers won the Big South Regular Season and Tournament to capture their first-ever Big South double. High Point will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament making its second NCAA Tournament appearance. High Point was undefeated at home this season. Nick Phipps, Mason Marcey, Lalas Ayertey, and MD Myers were selected to the Big South All-Tournament Team. Phipps was also awarded MVP honors. The Panthers came into this contest #14 via TopDrawerSoccer.com, #20 in the country in RPI, #24 in the College Soccer News poll, and receiving votes in the United Soccer Coaches poll.
“Congratulations to Scott and Upstate on a great season, they were so impressive throughout. The way they played and the results they have had and certainly making it to the final tons of respect for them and their program,” Coach Zach Haines said after the 3-1 Big South Title clinching win. Tonight we were so resilient, we had about the worst start you could have to a game. You give up a goal out of nowhere one minute in then you miss a penalty shortly thereafter and it just showed what this group is about and that is the biggest takeaway. We played some incredible stuff tonight, we scored some great goals but the character of the group is amazing what they have done this season. I give them all the credit in the world for how they have gone about it.”
A flying start from Upstate as they opened the scoring in the second minute. However, that did not stop the Panthers from winning a penalty only seconds later. Caco Fernandez broke down the left-hand side, cut inside, and hit his shot. His shot ricochet off the hand of a Spartan defender and the referee pointed to the penalty spot. However, Sebastian Chalbaud was unable to convert from the spot. A great save by the Upstate goalkeeper meant Chalbaud was unable to add to his impressive goal tally. However, the Panthers were not to be deterred.
High Point kept their foot on the gas to find an equalizer. The Panthers would find their first goal in the 10th minute. A deflected pass in the midfield fell to the feet of Alex Abril who fed a one-time ball onto the feet of Myers. Myers took the pass under control and finished with a powerful shot around the goalkeeper. It was Myers’s 13th goal of the season and Abril’s sixth assist this campaign.
In the 13th minute, High Point doubled their lead and Myers doubled his tally on the night. Alessandro Sobacchi received the ball in his half and turned forward, finding Fernandez. Fernandez used his pace and agility to take the ball to the byline. Fernandez hit a low-driven cross into the path of Myers who made no mistake from four yards out for his 14th of the season and second of the night. Myers now has six two-goal games this year.
The Panthers continued to find their mojo as the game progressed. High Point began to dominate the midfield and found control of the game. The purple and white dictated the tempo of the game and continued to attack the break down the Upstate backline. Fernandez almost got his name on the score sheet in the 18th minute when his chipped effort floated onto the top of the crossbar and out of play. Holden Trent kept the Panthers in front with a great diving save. Towards the end of the half, Trent made an acrobatic save to, again, deny the Spartans.
With 30 seconds left in the half, High Point was awarded a corner. Marcey put a teasing ball onto the head of Josh Dubost. Dubost’s header fell to the feet of Ashton Perkins. Perkins struck the bouncing ball, low to the near post. The Upstate goalkeeper was able to get a hand on the shot but it carried too much power and found the back of the net. The goal was Perkins’ third of the year and gave the Panthers a two-goal cushion going into the break.
The second half began deadlocked in midfield with neither team having many attacks. This was until the 58th minute when Abril beat two Spartans and hit a low curler on his left foot that rattled the post. A red card for Upstate in the 62nd minute meant the Spartans were forced to finish the game with 10 men.
Fernandez was desperate to get a goal and put the final nail in the Upstate coffin. However, his lofted attempt sailed just over the bar. With their man advantage and two-goal cushions, High Point was able to shift into cruise control. The Panthers controlled the possession and frustrated Upstate. The raucous crowd at Vert Stadium helped pushed the Panthers to the finish line.
Volume in Vert Stadium hit a maximum when the countdown began and the final whistle was blown. High Point finally etched their name into Big South history. Coach Haines, who wins his first tournament trophy as a head coach, received the traditional water cooler shower. The High Point team was overjoyed as they celebrated their victory. Marcey lifted the Big South Tournament trophy to the heavens for the first time in program history to cap off an incredible night and Big South season.
High Point will receive an automatic bid to play in the NCAA Tournament.
UP NEXT: The Panther’s next opponent will be decided in the NCAA Men’s Soccer Selection Show on Monday, April 19 at noon.