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Road to Highmark: Charleston shuts down Gannon to advance to Super Region final

From University of Charleston, Gannon University and reports

University of Charleston moved one step closer to returning to the NCAA Division II Men’s Final Four — and to Highmark Stadium  — on Thursday by shutting down hosts Gannon University proved its defense was better.

In its round of 16 match, the Golden Eagles blanked the Knights at McConnell Family Stadium in Erie.

Continuing its impressive defensive play, the 2017 Division II National Champions have allowed a goal in its last five matches and has not yet been scored upon in the postseason.

UC (19-2-1) will face Franklin Pierce, which beat Post 2-1 in double overtime in the other round-of-16 game Thursday at Gannon, for a spot in the Division II national semifinals to be played in Pittsburgh next week. Charleston has made it at least that far in four of the previous five seasons.

The Golden Eagles didn’t reach the national quarterfinals last year, but in the prior four, they played in three national title matches, winning one, and reached another semifinal.

Charleston and Franklin Pierce square off at 2 p.m. Saturday in Erie.

HOW IT HAPPENED: Charleston 3, Gannon 0 

The Golden Eagles dispatched the Golden Knights with an offense equally as potent as their defense. UC entered Thursday ranked second in Division II in goals scored per match and didn’t disappoint against Gannon.

The first goal of the match came in the 34th minute. Adam Burchell, at the top of the goal box, found Ettore Ballestracci in the bottom right corner for a one-touch goal. Gannon held Charleston scoreless for the rest of the first half, but weren’t so lucky in the second.

Ballestracci found the back of the net again in the 47th minute taking another pass from Burchell and burying it low and to the left for a 2-0 lead. Then, with less than 3 minutes left to play, Christopher Allan scored off a Christos Charalambous pass for the final margin.

UC keeper Alvaro Dean faced some pressure from Gannon’s offense but turned everything away. Dean stopped all seven shots on goal the Golden Knights took.

The Knights fired off the first three shots of the game. James Randall (Brampton, Ontario/Notre Dame Catholic Secondary School) struck first eight minutes into action just right of the post. Ivan Manfredi (Chiavari, Italy/Liceo Scientifico Marconi Delpino) and Sergio Del Castillo (Madrid, Spain) took the next two shots, which were both on goal to give Alvaro Dean two saves in the first 26 minutes.

The Golden Eagles took their first shot of the game in the 29th minute after a strong first half performance by the Gannon defense. Charleston quickly found their way through the pressure to score in the 34th minute. Ballestracci tallied the game winner on an assist by Adam Burchell. Burchell got the pass at the top of the goal box and sent it to Ballestracci who was at the bottom right corner ready with one touch for the goal. Gannon would get two more shots before the end of the half but Charleston led 1-0 at the break.

The Ballestracci-Burchell duo connected again just out of the break. Burchell took the ball down the right side of the box and passed to Ballestracci who was running with him down the left. Ballestracci sent the sent the ball past Chandler Hallwood (Halifax, England/Woodhouse Grove) for their second goal of the game.

Gannon would take another eight shots before the Golden Eagles scored again. Three of Alex Lee Yaw’s (Jamestown, N.Y./Mercyhurst Prep) four shots on goal came in an eight minute span, but all would be saved by Dean.

Charleston sealed the deal with a goal by Christopher Allan. Christos Charalambous pass from just outside the box on a free kick to Allan who beat his defender for the third goal of the game.

Thursday’s loss marks the first time this season Gannon lost by more than one goal or trailed by more than one goal at any point in a match. The Knights finish 18-3-0 on the year, which will go down as the second best percentage (.857) in program history.

Despite the loss, Gannon took 13 shots to Charleston’s 10. They also managed one more shot on goal than the Eagles. Lee Yaw led Gannon with six shots and took four on goal. He finishes the season with a team-high 12 goals and nine assists.

Randall, Chad Barrick (Gahanna, Ohio/Gahanna Lincoln), and Ivan Manfredi (Chiavari, Italy/Liceo Scientifico Marconi Delpino) all tallied a shot in their final career-game with the Knights.

Hallwood made three saves in goal for Gannon.

Dean came into the match with only 16 saves on the year. He made another seven in goal for Charleston to improve to 14-0-1 in goal.

The DII men’s soccer championship: Day 1 of the third round

There weren’t too many surprises on Thursday. No. 3 Charleston (WV) was the only lower seed to advance,

Several DII men’s soccer heavyweights are still alive and well in the tournament. Along with Charleston, Lynn — the final No. 1 seed remaining — advanced to yet another quarterfinals in its esteemed history. In the closest game of the night, No. 2 Cal State L.A. eked by No. 3 St. Mary’s needing both overtimes and every penalty kick to seal the deal.

Here’s Thursday’s scoreboard and the remaining schedule for the weekend.

Thursday, Dec. 5

Friday, Dec. 6

Saturday, Dec. 7

John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets. He is also author of 'Miracle on the Mon' -- a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium with the narrative leading up to and centered around a remarkable match that helped provide a spark for the franchise. John has covered sports for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the US. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

Riverhounds MF Danny Griffin

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