Bears’ soccer returns to ASUN finals

CONWAY — Goalkeeper Zach Schawl played the role of the hero Monday night in the Bears’ ASUN Semifinal match against Bellarmine, coming up with clutch save after clutch save as the Central Arkansas men’s soccer team advanced to its second-straight ASUN Championship match after downing Bellarmine on PKs.

The Bears moved to 6-4-6 on the year, officially earning a draw in the record book, but officially moving on in style after cruising to a 3-0 tally on Penalties after 110 minutes of action.

Monday’s match was a back-and-forth affair early on, with neither side able to build much attack in the opening stretch. Finally, it was Bellarmine who was able to tag the first shot on goal of the evening, sending one into Schawl’s waiting hands. Jonathan Randall would answer with the Bears’ first shot five minutes later, but his shot missed wide left of the goal.

It would be 10 minutes before an offense even attempted another shot, but Bellarmine would use the opportunity to strike first, scoring in the 25th minute to take an early 1-0 lead. It marked the first time since joining the ASUN that the Knights were able to tally a goal against Central Arkansas, in the previous three matches, the Bears had outscored the Knights 5-0. The score would hold through the end of the first half, with the teams combining for seven shots.

With work to do, the Bears put on their hardhats and got to work, seeking an equalizer with a calm, collected sense of urgency, moving fast but in control. Sebastian Andreassen nearly equalized just two minutes into the half, but the Bellarmine keeper was able to corral his shot. But the Bears would keep looking, eventually tying the game on another shot from Andreassen, using his 6’5″ frame to put his head on a ball from Richy Lapointe-Guevara into the back of the net. It marked the eighth goal of the season for Andreassen.

The match would continue with high intensity, as physical play kept putting players in the dirt, only to rise again to continue the fight. As the match approached 70 minutes, Andreassen picked up a deep ball down the left flank of the Bears’ offensive third. The Norwegian then lofted it into the box, where a sprinting Kris Naicker connected with it to score a second goal, taking the lead from the Knights. But Bellarmine was undeterred, countering and keeping the celebration for the Bears brief, tying the game again just a few minutes later in the 74th.

Both sides would continue to seek opportunities to sneak in a game-winner in regulation, but the defenses of both teams stayed resolute, sending the match to overtime. Central Arkansas would take a couple of shots in the first overtime, but each would be blocked before becoming much of a threat.

Back on the other side, Bellarmine had arguably the best look of the second extra period, winding up a straight-away look that forced Schawl to extend the entire length of his 6’4″ frame to make an incredible diving save that may have saved the season for the Bears. After the near scare, the match stayed deadlocked after 110 minutes, sending the teams to Penalties. Bellarmine, for its part, advanced to the semis on Penalties against Stetson, defeating the Hatters and gaining the experience that the Bears had not yet earned this year.

Andreassen easily put the first look in, hesitating before cashing in on a shot to the lower left of the goal. Pietro Fontana and Ignacio Bellina would respond with the same results, making all three shots for the Bears. After each make by Central Arkansas, Schawl would calmly take his place on the line, daring Bellarmine shooters to test his wingspan and reaction, and each time, the Texan would pounce like a rattlesnake, intercepting the ball before allowing any to cross the plane. Three-straight shots were stopped by Schawl, punching the ticket to a second-straight final in as many years in the ASUN for the Bears.