LAKELAND, Fla.—A back-and-forth contest between two of the best teams in the Sun Conference ended in the most dramatic way possible- a penalty shootout. The Fire were able to edge the Johnson & Wales Wildcats 4-3 in the shootout, advancing to their first conference final since the 2015 campaign.
Jake Van Der Luit started things off with his 14th goal of the season in just the 16th minute. Ben-Avir Espinal chipped a ball over the JWU back line that Van Der Luit ran on to and blasted past the keeper at the near post to open the scoring. The senior extended his scoring streak to five games with the goal.
Before the half, the Wildcats responded with a goal in the 33rd minute to even the match at one going into the break.
Van Der Luit notched his second tally of the night to put SEU up just after halftime. Jonathan Jimenez collected his team-high seventh assist of the year as he threaded a searching ball through the Wildcat defense. The pass found the foot of Van Der Luit, who cut back on his favored right foot and slotted the ball into the side netting in the 48th minute.
Johnson & Wales was able to bounce back once again with a late score in the 80th minute to force extra soccer. After the Fire and the Wildcats traded two goals in regulation, the teams failed to find the net for the next 30 minutes of play. With the score tied at two in the extra periods, neither side could end the game with a golden goal, sending the contest to penalty kicks.
Although the Wildcats nearly doubled SEU’s shot total (24-13), goalkeeper Logan Whitney shut down the impressive JWU offense, making a career-high nine stops. The junior fought off a pressing opposing attack that featured five shots through the sudden death periods, keeping the Fire in the game.
In the penalty shootout, all four Southeastern players converted from the spot. Jorge Navarrete, who stepped in to replace Whitney for the shootout, made a clutch save to put SEU up 3-2 after three rounds. With the game on the line in the fifth round, the Wildcats blitzed a ball off of the crossbar, sealing their fate and launching Southeastern into the championship game.
Southeastern stayed unbeaten at home in 2018 with the victory.
The Fire will now face either Thomas or Keiser in the Sun Conference Tournament final. If Thomas is victorious, SEU will travel to Thomasville on Friday, but if Keiser wins, Southeastern will host the championship game.