BOLWING GREEN - The Bowling Green State University men's soccer team, after playing four consecutive matches on the road, returns home for the final two games of the regular season. The Falcons of head coach Eric Nichols play the last non-conference match of 2012 on Tuesday evening (Oct. 30), hosting Wright State University in the teams' annual battle for the I-75 Cup. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. at Cochrane Field.
Then, the Brown and Orange will close the regular-season schedule on Saturday night (Nov. 3), facing West Virginia University in a key Mid-American Conference matchup. That match is also slated for a 7:00 p.m. start at Cochrane, and will be 'Senior Night' for the Falcons, with the team's seniors being recognized during on-field ceremonies.
Admission for both of this week's matches, as has been the case for all Falcon men's and women's home regular-season action again this season, is free. Additionally, live stats for both the WSU and WVU contests will be available on the web at BGSUFalcons.com.
The Falcons enter the final week of the regular season tied for third place in the MAC standings. BGSU, WVU and Northern Illinois all have 10 points, but NIU has played one fewer MAC match than the Falcons and Mountaineers entering the week. The Huskies are 3-1-1 in conference play, while both BG and WVU are 3-2-1. Akron (6-0-0 MAC) has clinched the league's regular-season crown, and the Zips will host the MAC Tournament. The top-four teams in the final standings will qualify for the tourney.
BGSU can clinch a league tourney berth with a win over WVU, and the Falcons could advance to the MAC Tournament even without a victory in Saturday's match. However, should BG tie or lose to the Mountaineers, the Falcons would need help from other teams around the league this week. Fifth-place Western Michigan (2-2-1 MAC) and sixth-place Buffalo (2-3-0 MAC), like NIU, each have a game in hand on the Falcons. But, BG holds the tiebreaker with both WMU and UB by virtue of wins in the head-to-head meetings with both the Broncos and Bulls. Should WMU and UB both lose in their Tuesday conference matches, the Falcons would clinch a berth in the league tourney, regardless of Saturday's outcome vs. WVU. The MAC Tournament semifinal matches will be held on Friday, Nov. 9, with the championship set for Sunday, Nov. 11.
There will be some hardware on the line when BGSU takes on Wright State on Tuesday. For the third year in a row, the Falcons and Raiders will be battling for the I-75 Cup. The teams' head coaches, Nichols and WSU's Bryan Davis, came up with the idea prior to the 2010 season, and the teams now compete for a travelling trophy that is kept by the winning school until the teams' next meeting. The Falcons and Raiders each have posted one win since the trophy was created.
BGSU is 7-7-3 overall, and the Falcons are 3-2-1 in league action. BG will enter the Wright State match on a three-match unbeaten streak. Last week, the Brown and Orange picked up back-to-back wins for the first time this season, with 2-0 victories on the road against both Michigan and Florida Atlantic.
BG's MAC wins have come against UB, WMU and FAU, and the Falcons have lost to Akron and Hartwick in league play. Overall, BGSU is 4-3-1 at home, 3-3-2 on the road and 0-1-0 in neutral-site matches this year to date.
On Tuesday night (Oct. 23), the Falcons struck quickly in the second half, with two goals within the first five minutes after halftime, en route to the win over the Wolverines. Junior Anthony Grant and freshman Ryan James scored the goals for the Brown and Orange, with the James goal coming just 2:29 after Grant's score. Sophomore Danny Baraldi assisted on both goals, while juniors Zach Schewee and Ryan Snashall each had one assist. Junior Michael Wiest made five saves on the night, including a diving stop of a penalty kick by Michigan's Fabio Pereira with 3:52 left in the match.
On Friday night (Oct. 26), the Brown and Orange scored two early goals, then withstood a wind-aided second-half attack by host FAU. Grant and Baraldi each had a goal and an assist on the night. Grant scored off of Baraldi's free kick in the 13th minute, and Baraldi took a pass from Grant and blasted a shot into the net from roughly 60 yards away with nearly 25 minutes gone.
In that FAU match, the Falcons had an 11-1 advantage in first-half shots, with the wind at BG's back. The second period saw the Owls take 17 shots to the Falcons' one. For the second-straight match, Wiest made five saves – with all coming in the second half – to earn the shutout.
For Wiest, Friday's clean sheet was his seventh of the season and the 13th of his career. He has a career goals-against average of 1.03 in just over 2,700 minutes played.
Individually, Grant and Baraldi are tied for the team lead in scoring, with 19 points apiece. Grant leads the Falcons with eight goals, while Baraldi has six goals and a team-leading seven assists.
Both Grant and Baraldi had five points last week, with Grant scoring twice and adding one assist. He had the game-winning goal in both the U-M and FAU matches.
Baraldi was involved in the scoring of all four Falcon goals last week, scoring against FAU and picking up three assists.
Baraldi has topped his goal and point totals for all of last season. The Canton, Ohio, native led the Falcons with 18 points, including five goals, in 2011. He now has 37 career points in 34 games at BG, with 11 goals and 15 assists as a Falcon. Grant, like Baraldi, has scored more than a point per match during his BGSU tenure, as Grant's 19 points have come in 17 matches in his first season in Northwest Ohio. Grant leads the team with 43 total shot attempts and 22 shots on goal in 2012.
Grant (five) and Baraldi (two) have combined for all seven of the Falcons' game-winning goals this fall to date. Grant's total of five GWG is the highest by a BG player since Bobby Biggs scored six winners in the 1997 season.
James has six points on the year, with two goals and two assists, while fifth-year senior Zach Lemke's five points include three assists. Snashall and fellow junior Ryan Comiskey each have four points this season, while redshirt junior Brandon Silva has three.
In goal, Wiest has played all 1602-plus minutes. He has 91 saves, a goals-against average of 1.01 and seven shutouts. The junior has a save percentage of .835.
Wiest's total of seven shutouts is the highest by a BGSU 'keeper since Dave DeGraff had seven clean sheets in the 2001 season. No Falcon has had more shutouts in a season since Scott Vallow had 10 in 1998. Vallow posted a double-digit total in each of his four years (1995-98) at BGSU, including a school record-tying 12 in 1997.
Wiest currently has a shutout streak of 299:04, the longest streak of his career. He has posted three-straight clean sheets for the first time in his BG tenure, and has not surrendered a goal since late in the IPFW match of Oct. 16.
In front of Wiest, junior Sean Sikich has played every second of every match at a center-back position. Silva has played 1594 of the nearly 1603 minutes this fall, while freshman defender Jake Genrich has been on the pitch for 1554 minutes and Lemke 1482. Genrich, Sikich, Silva and Wiest are the only players to have started all 17 matches for the Falcons this year to date.
Wright State enters the week with an overall record of 4-11-1, and the Raiders are 2-3-1 in Horizon League play after a 1-0 home win over Milwaukee on Saturday night (Oct. 27). That victory snapped a five-match losing streak, with four of those setbacks coming by one goal. WSU is 2-4-1 at home, 1-6-0 on the road and 1-1-0 in neutral-site matches this year to date.
Individually, Brett Elder leads the team in scoring with six goals and 15 points. Derek Zuniga and Emeka Ononye have three goals each, and Zuniga has a team-high five assists for 11 points. Jacob Bye has played in 14 of the Raiders' 16 matches in goal, and has 65 saves, two shutouts and a 1.29 GAA for fourth-year head coach Bryan Davis. A year ago, WSU finished with an 11-7-2 overall record and a 5-2-1 Horizon League mark.
The Falcons trail Wright State, 6-5-2, in the all-time series between the teams, and the Raiders captured last year's meeting, with a 2-1 decision in Dayton (Nov. 1, 2011). The Falcons picked up a 3-0 victory in the teams' last matchup at Cochrane Field, two years ago (Sept. 22, 2010). BGSU is 3-2-2 in home games and 2-4-0 in road matches with the Raiders, and the Falcons have won two-straight home matchups against WSU.
West Virginia enters the week with an 8-5-2 overall mark, and the Mountaineers are 3-2-1 in their inaugural season as a MAC affiliate member. WVU hosts Stony Brook on Tuesday night prior to heading to Bowling Green for Saturday's match. The Mountaineers suffered a 1-0 loss at Northern Illinois on Saturday afternoon, falling on a goal in the 85th minute. Entering the Stony Brook game, WVU is 8-1-0 in home games and 0-4-2 in road matches in 2012.
Eric Schoenle leads the team with five goals this fall, and is one of three players with 10 points. Majed Osman (3 goals, 4 assists) and Uwem Etuk (2 goals, six assists) are tied with Schoenle for the team points lead. A total of 13 different players have scored at least one goal for the Mountaineers this fall. Pat Eavenson has played in 13 of the team's 15 matches, and has three shutouts, 31 saves and a GAA of 1.00. Head coach Marlon LeBlanc welcomed back 13 letterwinners, including nine starters, from last year. The 2011 club finished 11-8-1 overall and 6-3-0 in Big East Conference play, advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Falcons lead WVU, 3-0-1, in that series, but the teams have not met since 1995. That year, BGSU posted a 6-2 overtime victory in a tournament at Akron (OT, obviously, was not yet sudden death). Three of the four previous matches were played at neutral sites, including a 4-2 WVU win in 1983 that was later forfeited to BGSU. The lone prior match that was not held at a neutral site was a 1-0 BG home win in OT in 1986. Three of the four series meetings have required overtime.
As mentioned, this weekend's matches close the regular season. Should the Falcons qualify for the MAC Tournament, BGSU would play a semifinal match against an opponent to be determined on Friday, Nov. 9, with regular-season champion Akron hosting the league tourney. The championship match is set for Sunday, Nov. 11.