Bears Set Program Record for Wins; Secure First Round Bye
DELAND, Fla. – The Mercer women's soccer team set a new program record on Friday night after disposing of Stetson 2-0, but perhaps more importantly the team secured a first-round bye in the upcoming Atlantic Sun Championship.
With the win and by virtue of East Tennessee State loss at Jacksonville and a Florida Gulf Coast victory, the Bears secured themselves at least a first round bye as one of the top two seeds in the tournament.
The Bears 12th win of the season set an all-time record in the program's 27-year history and keeps the Bears in the driver seat for the regular season championship.
The other team that secured a top seed on Friday is defending A-Sun champs, FGCU. Florida Gulf Coast took care of its business on Friday night downing Kennesaw State, 1-0 in Ft. Myers.
The Eagles and Bears will now play for the regular season championship on Sunday and the right to host the semi-final and final rounds of the A-Sun Championship.
Friday night's win extended the Bears unbeaten streak to 11 games and it was the team's fourth-straight victory. With the shutout, Mercer has now allowed just two goals against conference opponents this season and it was the fifth-straight clean sheet.
"We knew coming into tonight it was going to be a tough environment and they were playing very relaxed," head coach Tony Economopoulos said. "We knew we had struggled against them in recent years in the regular season, but today I challenged my seniors to go out with a win and we were able to get the result, so I am very happy."
The Bears looked the more composed team on Friday night generating eight shots while holding Stetson from getting off a shot off in the first half. One of those eight shots led to Mercer's first goal when senior Danielle Hesse collected a pass from Washida Blackman and finished from eight yards out in the 28th minute.
"Our goal was to pressure them a lot and create chances," Economopoulos said. "Washida was able to get the cross off and Danielle did a good job to finish it, but tonight was a collected effort from all positions."
Tess Patton nearly made the game 2-0 when she intercepted a pass and had a one-on-one opportunity against Stetson keeper Victoria Troccoli. Patton put her touch wide of goal, but the Bears clearly held the early momentum and walked into the locker room with the 1-0 lead.
Junior Casey Barrett effectively put the game out of reach as she scored an insurance goal in the 70th minute off a Mercer free kick. Sophomore Tess Patton took the free kick that ricocheted off the Stetson keeper to the waiting feet of Barrett. Barrett took the rebound and made good on her third goal of the season.
The Bears defense has now played 470 minutes since last giving up a goal against ETSU on Sept. 30. That mark also goes for freshman keeper Maggie Cropp who improved her overall record to 8-1-2 on Friday. Cropp, who came into the weekend with the fourth overall save percentage in the country, improved her mark to .933. She has allowed just two goals all season.
Mercer now turns it focus to exacting revenge against the last conference team to beat the Bears. The Bears and FGCU played to two overtimes before the Eagles earned the right to play in the NCAA tournament last season in beating Mercer 1-0 in the A-Sun Championship game.
Sunday's kickoff is set for 1 p.m. at the FGCU Soccer Complex. A win or a tie would be enough for the Bears to secure their first regular season title since 2008.
"This is what you play for," Economopoulos said. "You play to be able to control your own destiny and we are playing the defending champs and it will be true test. We are excited to be in this position."