Gorloks grab playoff spot with win over Blackburn

Webster University junior midfielder Agustin Villalba eyes the ball during the Gorloks’ 2-0 win at Blackburn College on Oct. 29. Villalba scored Webster’s first goal, which helped the Gorloks earn the fourth seed in the SLIAC tournament. PHOTO COURTESY OF KEITH ENGER

The Webster University men’s soccer team battled for its playoff life at Blackburn College on Oct. 29 in the regular-season finale for both teams.

Needing a win just to have a chance to qualify for the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament, the Gorloks found themselves in a rough, foul-plagued match that included four red cards and eight yellow cards on the Beavers. Cooler heads prevailed for the Gorloks, as they kept their composure to come away with a 2-0 win. With a little help from Fontbonne University, Webster clinched a berth in the tournament.

“Coach said the ref was calling easy fouls, so don’t tackle hard and don’t fight,” junior midfielder Agustin Villalba said. “He said stay calm and have discipline, and we did.”

In an intense game where the hometown crowd was rowdy, Webster needed a win and Blackburn needed at least a draw to secure the fourth and final spot in the SLIAC tournament. Blackburn has never qualified for the tournament in program history.

“My guys have already experienced games like this,” Webster coach Marty Todt said. “I told my players they have to have mental discipline and hold it together.”

While Webster was taking care of Blackburn, the Gorloks needed Principia College to lose its final regular-season game at home against Fontbonne. The Griffins obliged by beating Principia 2-1 in overtime.

The Griffins had already given the Gorloks hope by beating Blackburn 4-0 a few days earlier. A Blackburn win in that contest would have eliminated Webster, regardless of the outcome of the Webster-Blackburn game. Sophomore midfielder Mark McHugh received a text message saying Principia had lost.

“I yelled out to everyone on the bus ride home, ‘They lost. We’re in,’” McHugh said. “Everyone started chanting ‘happy bus ride’ just like the Cardinals’ slogan ‘happy flight.’”

After a scoreless first half, the action got physical and Blackburn fell apart in the second half.

“When they started giving us some tough hits, we did not retaliate; we kept our focus,” Todt said. “We didn’t get frustrated.”

Blackburn coach Aydin Gonulsen had a different take on the action.

“Officiating was not where it should be; the guy in the middle lost his composure,” Gonulsen said. “Three minutes into the second half, the ref called a foul on one of my players and then showed him a red card. This was like a playoff game — you don’t make that call at that point.

“I’ve been in this game for 40 years and won three national championships — you just don’t make that call. It demoralized our team.”

Webster was sparked by the play of Villalba, who was making his first start of the season at center midfield.

“Auggie was feeling it,” Todt said. “He played simple and hard.”

Villalba made countless key passes that opened up opportunities for the Gorloks. He scored off a head ball across the mouth of the box by senior forward Clint Carder to give the Gorloks a 1-0 lead at the 68:46 mark.

“I was surprised I started and played the entire game, “ Villalba said. “I tried to switch the ball to the other side and help us get more possession and opportunities to score.”

On Villalba’s goal, Blackburn claimed Webster was offside. The second red card of the half was called on the Beavers for arguing.

“When my top player was shown a red card for complaining, that was it,” Gonulsen said. “My team could not keep their composure, but I told them I probably would have done the same thing.”

Webster had a two-man advantage, and Todt used it to his advantage by wearing down the Beavers. He inserted freshman reserve player Taylor Overstreet to increase the pace of the game.

“I’m a little guy and I was running around their forwards, making it difficult for them,” Overstreet said. “I worked hard when they were down two players to tire them out. Nobody likes it when a little guy like me starts running around.”

With Blackburn shorthanded, the Gorloks scored an insurance goal. Carder drilled a shot in with less than 10 minutes left to make it 2-0. Todt said Blackburn had an unusual strategy leading up to the game.

“In Blackburn’s last game (against Fontbonne), they rested their starters and even played JV players,” Todt said. “They thought they would roll over us, but our discipline and heart brought us the win.”

Webster finished the regular season at 7-8-2 overall and 4-3-1 in the SLIAC. The Gorloks play at Westminster College on Nov. 2 in the first round of the SLIAC tournament. The winner of that game will advance to the championship to face the winner of the Nov. 2 game between Fontbonne and Greenville College.

“I am looking forward to the tournament — we have as good a chance as anyone,” Villalba said. “We were pretty close to everyone in the tournament during the season. We can beat any of them.”

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