SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – SIUE men's soccer is returning to the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament after a 2-1 semifinal win over Evansville Friday afternoon at Allison South Stadium at Missouri State.
It will be SIUE's third consecutive appearance in the MVC Tournament Final. Second-seeded SIUE will face either top-seeded Loyola or host and No. 5 seed Missouri State for the Championship and the conference's automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament Sunday at 1 p.m.
"I couldn't be happier with the way we started today," SIUE Head Coach Mario Sanchez said. "We had a good balance of intensity and composure."
The Cougars got on the board first, striking in the 25th minute, when they took advantage of a corner kick. Austin Ledbetter put the Cougars on top after the corner from McHugh fell to his feet. Ledbetter spun and struck a low ball from the top of the six yard box.
"Getting the first goal allowed us to dictate the play," Sanchez said.
SIUE carried the lead into halftime and then added to it shortly into the second period.
"It was important for us not to sit back and wait, to get that second goal," Sanchez added. "As expected they put us under a lot of pressure."
"It's always good to have those moments," Sanchez said of Duncan's goal. "Joel's a role player who plugs away every day. We've always known he can finish. He put himself in position and he put it away."
Evansville pulled within a goal in the 81st minute with a free kick. Zac Blaydes lofted the kick into the box and Ian McGrath headed in over SIUE goalkeeper Kyle Dal Santo to make it 2-1.
With just 12 seconds left McGrath nearly tied the game. He got his head on a ball after a corner kick, only to have his chance denied by Dal Santo, who pushed the attempt wide.
Evansville outshot SIUE 16-6. Dal Santo finished with five saves for the Cougars.
"Kyle has begun to play with the composure of an older player," Sanchez said. "He and (SIUE assistant coach) Jeremy (Proud) have a good relationship."