Wildcats shut out MNU for conference title

Story by Lauren Bechard

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The Baker University men’s soccer team defeated MidAmerica Nazarene University to take home the 2013 Heart of America Athletic Conference title.

On Friday afternoon, BU fans packed the stands at Pioneer Field in Olathe to cheer on the ‘Cats to a 1-0 victory over MNU.

The championship triumph earned the Wildcats an automatic bid to the 2013 NAIA Men’s Soccer National Tournament.

Sophomore Andrew Miller says it’s an “overall love for each other” that earned Baker the win.

“We have all really bought into this team,” Miller said. “While we might not have the most talent in the country, we have the best team chemistry.”

Miller scored the lone goal of the game in the 71st minute after connecting with a corner kick sent in by freshman Chris Tuso.

“I see the ball come to my foot and I am just praying ‘please don’t mess this up,’” Miller said. “I see the ball cross the line and they bury it in the back of their net after it had already went in and it was just pure elation.”

Miller describes the goal as a “total team effort.”

“We’re the hardest working team in the country without a doubt, and since we have that we can go places,” Miller said.

Playing against the wind, the Wildcats were outshot by the Pioneers in the first half, 10-1. Head coach Nate Houser is proud of the team for playing through adversity.

“I thought we were mentally tougher than we have been,” Houser said. “Things certainly didn’t go our way for a while and we had to chase and claw and fight.”

Houser was also pleased with the performance of senior goalkeeper Matt Bickley, who made six saves during the game.

“Matt Bickley was unbelievable in the first half, and when we have performances like that, I can’t do anything but take my hat off and applaud,” Houser said.

As team captain, senior Andy Griffin was focused on making sure his team stayed together throughout the match.

“Everybody came out and tried as hard as they could, left everything on the field and had no regrets,” Griffin said. “I couldn’t have asked for anything else.”

After MNU fans wore custom-made T-shirts, which read “We Own Baker,” to prepare for the BU homecoming football game on Oct. 5, Wildcat fans have made a joke of the phrase.

“I don’t think anybody owns Baker anymore,” Houser said after the win.

Miller chimed in, “I don’t think MNU owns Baker. I think the plaque will have something to say about that.”

The Wildcats will play the waiting game until Sunday evening when they hear who and where they will play in the opening round of the national tournament.<br/>

Until then, Houser suggested to his team in a huddle after the game, “have the night off and act like we’re the HAAC champions, maybe.”