CONWAY Asked the day before what he thought his team’s upset loss in the finals of the Big South Conference tournament had revealed about the squad, Coastal Carolina men’s soccer coach Shaun Docking said that would be determined Thursday night as the Chanticleers returned to the field for their NCAA tournament opener.
After watching his Chants reel off 15 straight wins prior to that disappointing setback on Sunday, he was eager to see how they would respond with their season on the line.
And when it was over, well, Docking couldn’t have been more pleased.
Coastal started its postseason push with a 3-0 win over Elon on Thursday night while not allowing a shot on goal until less than 13 minutes remained in a thoroughly impressive effort that now sends the Chants to a second-round matchup against No. 15-seeded Wake Forest on Sunday in Winston-Salem, N.C.
“To be honest, I think that’s the best we’ve played all year,” Docking said. “I think we really peaked tonight, played a wonderful game. We played a really good two halves of soccer, and if we didn’t do that we knew we would probably lose the game. We knew the pressure was on us tonight to try to perform, and I’m really proud of the guys because they did that.”
Junior midfielder Pedro Ribeiro scored the first two goals of the night for Coastal (19-2-2), knocking in shots of 18 and 25 yards in the 42nd and 59th minutes to provide some breathing room for the team early in the second half, while junior forward Matt Risher added the third goal in the 70th minute.
Not that the Chants’ needed much offensive support on this night.
Elon (15-5-2) entered the game tied for 19th nationally in scoring while averaging 2.0 goals per game and boasting the nation’s leading goal scorer in senior forward Chris Thomas, who came in with 23 goals.
The Phoenix hit the post twice in the first half, but the visitors didn’t record an official shot on goal until 12:48 remained in the second half. Thomas recorded only one shot in the game as sophomore Uchenna Uzo led the defensive effort against him.
“They have a really good offense and one of the nation’s leading goal scorers. We’ve been talking about that all week,” sophomore defender Shawn McLaws said. “We just wanted to kind of make a statement and put our best performance out there, and I feel like the guys did that.”
Consequently, junior Mark Petrus needed to make just the one save while making his first start in goal after sophomore Federico Bertele allowed three goals (including two late scores) in the Chants’ 3-2 loss to Winthrop on Sunday in that Big South tournament finale.
As for Ribeiro, his two goals Thursday night were his fourth and fifth of the season.
“I’ve been trying to score, of course, the whole year,” Ribeiro said. “The ball didn’t go in, but I was able to get assists and set guys up to score too. But scoring’s always good, so I was pretty happy about it.”
The game was a rematch in several regards for the teams, as Coastal also defeated Elon in the first round of the NCAA tournament last year (4-3) and then beat the Phoenix, 2-1, earlier this season back in September.
Coastal advances to the second round of the NCAA tournament for the second straight season and previously having not achieved the feat since 2003, and the Chants will now turn their attention to an 11-3-5 Wake Forest team that finished third in the ACC standings and closed the regular-season with a 4-2 win over previously-unbeaten Maryland.
“I know nothing about them. Again, we’re just pleased to have won tonight,” Docking said. “We’ll think about it tomorrow. Myself and [Elon coach Darren Powell] were talking about it before the game, and to be honest, I think you’ve got two teams here tonight that are Sweet 16 teams. They’re both very good teams, and it’s a shame we met in the first round because I do think they’re a very dangerous team and they could have gone a long way in the tournament. So I’m really proud of the guys, I’m enjoying it right now and we haven’t even thought about Wake Forest.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318.