Wildcats advance in conference tournament

Story by Lauren Bechard

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The Baker University men’s soccer team will advance to the second round of the Heart of America Athletic Conference tournament after taking down the Avila Eagles.

The 3-2 victory over AU came in front of the Wildcats’ home crowd at Liston Stadium on Friday.

Senior Richard Klein said the game was hard-fought on both sides, but that is typical for the conference tournament.

“When you come down to playoffs, every game is super intense,” Klein said. “It’s always do-or-die so you’ve got to give everything you can on the field.”

Head coach Nate Houser said he was proud of the “consistent effort” the team gave on the field.

“We had two weeks off and there’s always going to be a little bit of rust when you do that, but I think we came out and did well,” Houser said. “We were solid at the start then we got a little lazy and gave something away, but I thought we did a good job of getting it back together.”

In the first 20 minutes of the game, freshman Chris Tuso found senior Andy Griffin who was able to get his head on the ball, sending it past the Avila goalkeeper to give Baker a 1-0 lead.

Klein would increase the deficit to 2-0 just 11 minutes later with a goal of his own, assisted by freshman Jordan Thacker.

Avila midfielder Felipe Garcia made the first goal of the night for the Eagles with five minutes left in the half.

“As a goalkeeper it’s always really frustrating to get scored on because I take it personally,” senior Matt Bickley said. “But our guys were playing well and everyone was trying as hard as they could.”

The ‘Cats came out strong in the second half, scoring in the first 10 minutes. Tuso found junior Preston Phillips this time, and a shot ripped right in front of the goal increased Baker’s lead to 3-1.

When Avila forward Louis Gallagher scored the final goal of the game with 13 minutes left on the clock, Houser thought it was “silly.”

“(Avila) worked very hard, but they weren’t very dangerous,” Houser said. “And that’s no insult. It’ isn’t what they did, it’s what we didn’t do. If they were playing through us I might have freaked out (about the goal), but I just thought we needed to get solid and sort things out and we’ll be good.”

Houser says the men will need to focus on preparing themselves mentally as they get ready to take on Benedictine College in the second round of the HAAC playoffs.

The ‘Cats will travel to Atchison to take on BC at 4 p.m. on Tuesday.

Earlier in the season, Benedictine came back from a 2-0 deficit to finish the game in a 2-2 tie with Baker. Klein is looking for redemption this time around.

“We kind of got robbed last time they were here,” Klein said. “We were up 2-0 and they came back and tied it up. We couldn’t pull it off, so this next game we are going to go there and hopefully make some guys cry.”

Realizing that any game could be the last of his collegiate soccer career, Bickley is also looking forward to taking on the Ravens in the second round of playoffs.

“Benedictine is always my favorite game of the year, so being able to go and play at their place for a chance to go to the conference championship is one of the most exciting things for me, especially during my senior year.”

After defeating Avila, the Wildcats are now 12-5-2 overall on the season and 4-1-1 in conference play.

“I want to thank all the great fans and students who came out. It was a great atmosphere tonight,” Houser said.