WILLIMANTIC, Conn. – Senior midfielder Williams Salta scored the tying goal on a free kick from the corner of the 18-yard box midway through the second half as the Keene State College men's soccer team all but eliminated Eastern Connecticut State University from qualifying for the Little East Conference playoffs with a 1-1 double-overtime tie before 300 fans at Thomas Nevers Field Saturday afternoon
Eastern (7-6-1, 1-3-1 LEC), which has lost only once at home in eight contests, had taken the lead on senior midfielder Xavier Doran's (Hebron) second goal of the season 12 minutes into the second half following sophomore forward Griffin Luczek's (Lee, NH) free kick, but Keene (6-3-4, 2-1-2 LEC) gained the equalizer nine minutes later when Salta drilled his free kick to the left of the wall and inside the left post.
The top four teams qualify for the LEC playoffs, which get underway Nov. 1 with semifinal-round games. With two LEC regular-season matches remaining, Eastern is in seventh place in the eight-team conference, with four points. Keene is in third place with eight points, but second-place Rhode Island College has a game in hand and brings nine points into its LEC match at Western Connecticut Sunday.
In place of starting senior goalie Jason Smith (out with a red card), senior Michael Sancomb was outstanding in net in his first appearance for Keene. Sancomb was credited with ten saves – all in regulation.
Eastern's first two chances in the first eight minutes did not require a save, however, when sophomore back Nick Starkowski (Marlborough) drilled a shot off the cross bar off a corner kick, and senior midfielder JD Stearns's (Bolton) shot in the box deflected off a Keene defender and wide of the left post.
Salta was Keene's most dominant threat, scoring once and forcing Eastern junior keeper Ryan Murphy (Cromwell) to save four of his seven shots.
Keene had two near-misses in the final 13 minutes of regulation. In a tie game with 13 minutes left in regulation, Salta found senior midfielder Riley Steele all alone on the left side of the box, but Steele's bullet banged off the right post. Three minutes later, Keene was awarded a free kick from 25 yards out. Salta unloaded a hard shot that Murphy saved. Keene's rebound shot through traffic struck Eastern freshman defender David Noel (Armonk, NY) near the goal line and caromed away.
The Warriors nearly kept their playoff hopes alive with what would have been tantamount to a Golden Goal in the waning seconds of regulation. Eastern gained possession of the ball on its side of midfield inside the final ten seconds of regulation, Senior midfielder Nicholas Warren (Southbury) took several touches before chipping the ball toward the far right post, perfectly to Luczek who found room between two Keene defenders with just seconds remaining. Luczek's header, however, landed squarely in the hands of Sancomb, stationed in the middle of the goal. The goalkeeper did not have to move to make his tenth save and send the contest into sudden death.
Keene had two legitimate chances early in the second overtime but could not break the tie. Given the last four opportunities of the second overtime, the Warriors could not capitalize, with three free kicks within striking distance and a corner kick producing nothing.
Each team had 16 shots and eight corner kicks, with Murphy making five saves.
Eastern visits Trinity College Tuesday at 7 p.m.