LAKELAND, Fla.— Three goals by Grayson Wilkes helped no. 24 Southeastern (10-2-1, 6-1 TSC) pick up an important conference victory over the Florida Memorial University Lions on Saturday night. With the win, the Fire need only three more points to clinch the regular season Sun Conference crown.
Southeastern got things started just 12 minutes into the contest, as Jake Van Der Luit turned beautifully in the box and was brought down by a Florida Memorial defender. Craig Barker placed the penalty into the bottom corner of the net to give SEU the early 1-0 advantage.
Van Der Luit doubled the Fire lead in the 32nd minute with a tally from Barker. Kendall Crouse played a ball through to Barker who was breaking down the right wing. The junior crossed a pass along the ground that was finished on a first-time shot into the side netting for Van Der Luit’s team-high eleventh of the year.
Wilkes’ goals then broke the game open. With just six seconds remaining in the first half, Jonathan Jimenez launched a long ball over the top to Eric Ugarte, who centered a pass to the top of the box. As time ran down, Wilkes picked the bottom corner with a rocket to put SEU up 3-0 before the break.
At the half, the Fire hurled 16 shots toward the opposing net, compared to FMU’s mere three shots.
The Lions did manage to pull within two with a goal in the 73rd minute, but Southeastern was relentless with their pressure. The Fire, who out-shot FMU 30-13, got two insurance tallies from Wilkes late in the contest. A free kick from Julian Hall was headed back across to Wilkes, who volleyed the James Paylor header over the Lions keeper to restore the three-goal lead in the 82nd minute.
A chaotic scramble in front of the net then produced the final goal of the night, as a Jimenez shot was blocked off of the line by a defender, but Wilkes was on the spot to head home yet another score just three minutes later, giving SEU a 5-1 advantage over Florida Memorial. The hat-trick off the bench marked the first multi-goal game of Wilkes’ career.
“We really came together and played with a lot of energy tonight. It wasn’t just the starting 11 who produced, it was a whole team effort that gave us this win,” Wilkes stated.
Head Coach Clay Roberts expanded on that thought, “The depth of our team won the game for us. We set the tempo early, established a rhythm, and played the way we play. Tonight was a great team effort and fantastic game by Grayson [Wilkes] that gives us some confidence heading into a tough contest on the road”.
The Fire will be back in action when they travel to Thomas University on Wednesday. The match is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m.