LEXINGTON, Ky. - No. 16 Lipscomb's magical run in the 2018 NCAA Men's Soccer Tournament came to a close on Saturday night at the Wendell & Vickie Bell Soccer Complex in the Sweet 16 as No. 3 Kentucky took a 2-1 victory.
After 75 minutes of knocking on the door, the Wildcats were able to break through a stingy Bisons defense with two goals in a six-minute span to punch their ticket to the Elite 8 and close the storybook season for Lipscomb. ASUN Player of the Year, Logan Paynter scored an equalizer less than 30 seconds after UK took the lead in the 76th minute.
"I think that's a credit to the team's perseverance," Lipscomb head coach Charles Morrow said on his team not going away. "I felt like when we answered so quickly, it just felt like at that moment that the momentum of the game had turned coming off having a lot of the ball. Certainly things looked optimistic at that point and were looking good going forward.
"Kentucky is such a dangerous team in terms of set pieces and catching you on the counter. We knew that would continue down the stretch. We liked our chances and our guys kept playing. I thought we did a good job to create what we could out of what was left in the game."
UK sprinted out of the gate looking to attack and controlled most of the first half. The Wildcats launched 11 shots at the net in the opening half, fortunately for the Bisons keeper Chris Zappia was locked in from the first touch.
The senior kept the scoreboard empty time and time again when it looked like UK would answer. He made six incredible stops in the opening half, all while diving to his right on each.
"I knew they liked breakaways," Zappia said. "I knew they liked to slip the ball in, and [I] left kind of the rest up to the way it played out"
The second half saw both sides penetrate the defense early, but no real threat was ever constructed. The Wildcats finally drew blood at 75:11 when a ball bounced around multiple players while trying to be cleared by the Bisons. A rebound sailed over Jason Reyes as he laid on the ground, causing him to throw a leg at the deflection and getting the ball past Zappia near post.
While the home crowd was celebrating what looked to be the potential game-winning goal, Paynter rocketed an equalizer inside the right post just 22 seconds later off a free kick from Ryan Birchfield. The goal was his 10th of the season.
"Yeah it's always fun to score against them, especially here. Great environment, great field, great stadium," Paynter said. "Just fell to me and I put it away, but I mean everything to the boys from the effort we put in tonight and the fight from all the guys even going down a goal, I'm just so proud of those guys."
Kentucky scored the game-winner in the 82nd minute when Marcel Meinzer sent a free kick at the far post from across the box where Bailey Rouse chested the ball into the net.
Lipscomb's season ends with a 10-10-1 record with results against No. 25 Washington & No. 9 UCF in the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky advances to face No. 11 Maryland in the NCAA Quarterfinals.
When asked if he would like to see Lipscomb-Kentucky become an annual rivalry, Morrow responded, "I really would, and I don't know that Kentucky wants to. I understand the reasons why, but the fact is our RPI has not hurt them in the three years that we've played them and we'd love to see it continue.
"I think the game makes us better. I think it makes Kentucky better. I get all the reasons why it's a tough game for them. But, would love to and we'll play them anytime, anywhere."
- Paynter's goal broke the Lipscomb career record for points at 84 with his score in the 76th minute. He also holds the career goals record with 36.
- Zappia finished the NCAA Tournament with 23 saves. He caps his career with 180 saves at Lipscomb.
- The loss snapped a five-match unbeaten streak for the Bisons, which had posted four wins and a tie in lead up to the match vs. Kentucky.
- The Bisons were making their second-straight and second all-time appearance in the NCAA Men's Soccer Tournament
- UK outshot the Bisons 20-10 overall and 9-2 on goal.
- Lipscomb owned the advantage in corner kicks, 6-5.
- Birchfield was credited with his fourth assist of the year, while Daniel Muhlbauer collected his third.
"I hope this season meant a lot to everyone in our community, I know it meant a lot to our guys," Morrow said. "We know that everyone inside the locker room, it means more than anyone else. But I hope that for the school it's a sense of pride. I hope that it encourages other programs, other athletes that are in the athletic department that because we are a mid-major doesn't mean we can't compete at the highest levels.
"I hope it encourages those who support our program that understand college soccer is a special sport and small mid-majors who support their soccer programs can compete at the highest levels. This game means much more to Lipscomb and our community than it does to UCF and its community and Kentucky and its community just because of the size. And that's part of what makes Lipscomb a special place, everyone is connected there. Everyone knows everyone and everybody's rooting for you. What does it mean to the community? I hope that it means a lot."