Bronco Soccer's Magical Season Ends in Sweet 16
EAST LANSING, Mich.- The Western Michigan men's soccer team's historic season came to an end in the NCAA Sweet 16, falling to Michigan State, 2-1, Saturday night.
The Broncos finish the season with a 17-4-1 record, best in school history, and advanced to the Sweet 16 with its first ever NCAA Tournament win last week. Of the Broncos' four losses this season, three of those came against teams who have advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight this season.
The Broncos took a 1-0 lead against the Spartans on a goal by sophomore Pepe Martinez in the 25th minute. Michigan State however was able to find the equalizer two minutes before the half. The Spartans scored the game-winning goal in the 54th minute after a free kick from the right side was volleyed on the backside and finished in front of the net.
Martinez's goal for Western Michigan was his first of the season. He chipped a ball over MSU's keeper at the six off a pass from Jay McIntosh. It was McIntosh's team-leading 10th assist of the year, tying for second most in a single season at WMU.
Michigan State's game-tying goal came on a numbers-up counter attack as Hunter Barone scored on an assist by Giuseppe Barone. John Freitag took the free kick on Michigan State's game-winning goal, sending his service to Connor Corrigan who volleyed it into the box for a finish by Jimmy Fiscus.
Western Michigan had a corner kick opportunity in the 66th minute that went long. WMU's Brandon Bye challenged the keeper in the air in the 80th minute, but the ball was punched away. The Broncos pressed heavily in the final minutes, even pulling their keeper Drew Shepherd down to the offensive end for a pair of corner kicks.
Defensively, Shepherd made two incredible diving saves in the second half, denying a 1v1 in the 67th minute and then leaping to his right to bat away a ball headed for the upper 90 in the 84th minute. The Broncos entered the game as the No. 10 seed overall while Michigan State was the No. 7 seed.
With the win, the Spartans (13-3-3) advance to face No. 2 Indiana in the NCAA Quarterfinals.
The loss marked the conclusion of the careers for the Bronco seniors, Bye, McIntosh, Shepherd and center back Zach Bock. They leave as the winningest class in Western Michigan history, posting a four-year record of 45-21-13. All four were First Team All-Mid-American Conference selections this season, with Bye earning MAC Player of the Year.
WMU reached unprecedented success in 2017, winning its first ever MAC regular season championship. The Broncos were ranked in the United Soccer Coaches poll for 10 consecutive weeks to end the season, spending eight in the top 10, and were ranked as high as No. 4. The NCAA Tournament appearance was just the second ever in school history and the first since 2003.
"I thought we were really good, for Pepe Martinez to score that goal and go up 1-0, it was a great individual effort, one of the cheekiest goals you'll see all year," said WMU head coach Chad Wiseman. "It hurt to concede one late before the end of the first half, it kind of took the wind out of us. Give credit to Michigan State, we made and error and they countered that error and put it in the back of the net.
"In the second half, another error on a set piece and Michigan State is known for scoring goals on set pieces. I was very, very proud of our fight that we had in the last 15 minutes. I thought we generated probably four or five chances to find an equalizer.
"All-in-all I don't think we could ask for a better season. Over the past four-five years we have changed the culture of Western Michigan men's soccer and have built a championship and national-caliber program."