History would not be rewritten on this night. The pursuit of perfection, not vengeance, prevailed.
Back in the College Cup for what felt like the millionth time over its storied 50-year history, Indiana men’s soccer once again showed that experience and sustained success does matter at this stage of the NCAA Tournament.
Four teams entered Friday’s pair of semifinal matchups under the brightest of lights at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina. All three besides Indiana have never lifted the national championship trophy.
The Hoosiers ensured there wouldn’t be a guaranteed first-time winner in Monday’s winner-take-all match, defeating the University of Pittsburgh Panthers 2-0 through another decisive, ruthless performance.
Head coach Todd Yeagley and the Hoosiers’ distinguished veteran core will get their wish.
Friday’s results mean No. 13 seed Indiana will face No. 3 seed Syracuse University in the National Championship for a chance to add a ninth star above its crest. The Hoosiers will get their second opportunity in three seasons after falling short to Marshall University in spring 2021.
“We don’t ride on what other people say, but I do feel there was certainly some doubting,” Yeagley said about the preseason expectations. “We put a tough schedule together. We have a confident keeper, a team that believes in defending as a whole and some special players – that's a nice formula. It wasn’t there in August and September, but it’s evolving and now we’re that close.”
Pittsburgh entered the semifinal with a squad worthy of the occasion, losing just four of its previous 21 matches all season and upsetting No. 1 seed University of Kentucky on its way to Cary. Above all, the Panthers looked to finally get to the title game after the Hoosiers denied them with a 1-0 win in the same round two seasons ago.
After his game-winning strike in the teams’ most recent meeting, senior forward Herbert Endeley proved a handful for the Panthers again. His elusiveness and abilities in open space frustrated the opposing back line and contributed to both Hoosier goals.
Through alert positioning, Endeley earned a penalty in the 14th minute attempting to head a deflected shot by senior forward Ryan Wittenbrink which fell in the center of the 18-yard box.
Wittenbrink fired his penalty kick to the left and guessed wrong, but the rebound fell back in his path. Indiana had its early lead. The composed follow-through pushed Wittenbrink’s team-leading goal tally to 10.
Endeley’s creativity and senior forward Sam Sarver’s pace kept the Panthers on their heels and the Hoosiers in control of the tempo for the opening half hour. The two were among the most commonly fouled players wearing crimson, as Pittsburgh out-fouled Indiana 9-0 through that span and 15-4 as a result of having to chase the lead.
“We all know what Herb can do,” senior forward Tommy Mihalic said about Endeley. “Any game he can pull a special moment; teams have to worry about him. It opens up the game for other guys.”
With under 30 seconds remaining in the first half, Endeley found himself in the attacking mix again.
His relentless attitude had no regard for the impending halftime whistle. A deflected shot released Mihalic on a chase across the penalty area, and seconds later, he unleashed a low shot that flew inches between Pittsburgh senior goalkeeper Joe van der Sar’s frozen frame and the near post.
“That goal felt good,” Mihalic said. “We’ve always talked about being sniffers, being at the ball at the right time after a rebound.”
Out of an impossible angle came a two-goal lead for Indiana. What was just a manageable game for Pittsburgh became mentally insurmountable.
“First goal hurt us, but the second goal killed us,” Pittsburgh head coach Jay Vidovich said.
Any momentum the Panthers found through an improved spell of possession in the closing stages of the first half quickly dissipated. On the other side, the stalwart Hoosier back line couldn’t have asked for a more favorable position to play in to close out the match.
The Panthers outshot the Hoosiers 6-3 in the second half in their desperate effort to keep their season alive. No pressure for senior defender Daniel Munie and company, who are more than comfortable with defending leads, especially during this NCAA Tournament run.
When Indiana’s defense was stretched to its limits, junior goalkeeper JT Harms stood his ground. Without his side-to-side leaps, including a deflating point-blank denial of a header in the 75th minute, the Hoosiers wouldn’t be entering Monday’s title game with a four-match, 360-minute clean sheet streak on the national stage.
“This is something that’s been coming for a long time,” Harms said. “It starts with our forwards, and it trickles down the field. Trusting the process from phenomenal support from my coaches and teammates.”
After a complicated start to the journey, Indiana’s arrived at a familiar destination for the 17th time. The team’s quest for a ninth national championship comes down to a meeting with a Syracuse squad high on confidence after a dramatic 3-2 victory over Creighton University.