STORY, PHOTOS, AND VIDEO BY RUSSELL HEITMANN
Pittsburgh, PA — Their storybook ending will have to wait for another chapter as the FHSU Men’s Soccer team’s historic season fell just short in the national semifinals. Barry University advanced 5-4 on penalty kicks in a match that was a statistical stalemate from both the Buccaneers and the Tigers.
“Congratulate Fort Hays State. When you look at the stat sheet, there is not a time you could say that Fort Hays or Barry shouldn’t have won that game, because it was as equal as I have ever seen in a match,” said Buccaneer head coach, Steve McCrath. “Credit Coach Parker, because they have a team that plays with incredible skill.”
Despite 33 total shots and 14 total shots on goal, through 90 minutes of regulation and two ten-minute overtime periods, the score still stood nil-nil, prompting the penalty kick shootout. Senior goalkeeper for the Buccaneers, Marco Sordi, recorded seven saves, while the Tigers got four saves from starting keeper, Fernando Pina. Pina left the match in the 65th minute after a collision in goal. He was replaced by Cullen Fisch – the early season starter for FHSU while Pina was recovering from an off-season injury. Fisch recorded three saves of his own.
Although Fisch hadn’t seen extended game action since the middle of September, head coach of the Tigers, Brett Parker, didn’t hesitate when subbing Fisch for the third-team All-American Pina.
“He [Fisch] played a lot for us early in the [year] and played against some top ten teams so and he was ready,” said Parker. “When you lose any player whether it is goalkeeper, defender or forward you expect the guys to step in and not miss a beat. He made a great save late in the match, did well in the penalties too. I was proud of him to come in and play with confidence, and he didn’t really miss a beat.”
Both goalkeepers also shined in the penalty kicks, as it took 16 total shots to decide a winner. The Buccaneers took an early 2-1 lead after three attempts, but the Tigers and Fisch came up with two consecutive stops entering the fifth attempt. However, Sordi blocked an attempt by Yaya Cisse, prolonging the shootout. Barry wouldn’t miss again, eventually winning 5-4.
Senior midfielder for the Tigers, Tobias Patino said they practiced for a penalty kick scenario all week after not encountering PK’s at all in either the regular or post-season.
“We were actually practicing all week penalties and stuff like that. When the time comes, you never know. I went first and I put it away, and like [coach] Parker was saying, they have an outstanding goalkeeper,” said Patino. “I remember he made a fantastic save in overtime, and after the game, I told him, ‘how, how?’and I congratulated him and I congratulate the other team. They played well.”
Despite the end result culminating in the end of their season, Fort Hays State made history in 2018, advancing to their first national semifinal match in program history – which is all the more impressive considering the Tiger program has only been an official FHSU varsity sport since 2011. This history doesn’t go unsung by Patino, nor by fellow senior, Caesar Jones.
“It means everything because the teams before us came up short,” said Jones, a defender for the Tigers. “To be the first senior class to get us over the hump — especially when we enjoyed the whole week so far — we just came up short today.”
For Patino, advancing to this stage means the groundwork has been laid for future Tiger teams to encounter the same level of success.
“We set the bar high for future generations, just not for us anymore,” said Patino. “But we made our school proud, we made our family proud, and I am pretty sure they know about our effort. We came a long way to be here and I am proud of this team and I am proud of everyone. Hopefully, we can be here next year.”
With the graduation of both Jones and Patino, as well as a number of other Tigers, Parker lauded Jones and Patino’s character, as well as the effort they put forth in their careers as Tigers.
“They’re just great examples of what we pride our program about. They are team-first guys, they are great leaders and good students they will both graduate this spring,” said Parker. “They have been through some ups and downs in the postseason in the past and a lot of near misses to get to this stage. You can’t ask for better senior leadership than what you’ve got from these guys.”
Fort Hays ends their season with a 17-2-2 overall record – their best mark in program history. The Barry University Buccaneers will play for the national championship on Saturday against the winner of Cal Poly Pomona and West Chester University.