St. Thomas was no stranger to overtime heading into this past weekend’s NCAA Sweet Sixteen. They had played seven overtime matches already this season and went into the weekend with four wins and three draws in those games. One of those overtime wins took place in the MIAC Tournament and another was a second round NCAA Tournament win over St. Scholastica. That experience paid big dividends this weekend as St. Thomas had to come from behind twice in two days, pulling rabbits out of their caps and racking up OT victories. The results advanced the team further than it has ever been before.
On Saturday, playing in Chicago, Francisco Delgado of Benedictine, Ill. got on the board first with a goal in the 36th minute. As the game wore on, the Tommies’ press became greater and possession more frequent. Finally, in the 87th minute, it was Christian Elliehausen who equalized for St. Thomas with a header from 18 yards out.
One minute into the second overtime Tyler Oliver was able to score the winner for the Tommies.
“These guys really believe in each other and what we do as a team,” remarked coach Jon Lowery. It was the second time in eight days that the Tommies had rallied to tie the score with less than three minutes to go in regulation and then won in two overtimes. “We stayed relatively calm in a high-anxiety situation, and that paid off.”
The win propelled St. Thomas into Sunday’s Elite Eight match against Redlands, CA. who consistently brings a good team to the tournament. Things were looking fairly bleak for the Tommies, who gave up an early goal in the eight minute by Arman Mogharei and another in the 60th by Alexander Knox. But UST were far from finished. Again, the team seemed to find their legs late in the game and it was again the unlikely hero Tony Kuplic, whose towering header from 18 yards out sparked a flame under his teammates. “The guys were relentless,” Lowery said. “We were playing well and we knew we could create opportunities. We just needed to keep pressing. When we scored our first goal, we could feel the momentum shift.”
St. Thomas went on a relentless attack and a shot that was heading toward the goal was blocked by Redlands defender Casey ChubbFertal. The referee Alex Beehler called it an intentional handball and issued a red card to ChubbFertal, and awarding a penalty to St. Thomas. Shae Bottum converted and the scored was tied with 11 minutes remaining.
Both sides had chances in the waning moments of regulations and the 10-man Redlands team even clanged one off the post.
The game went to overtime and seven minutes in it was Kuplic again, as he received a pass on the left side of the box from Elliehausen and hit a left footed 15 yard blast past goalkeeper Josh Haskill. Kuplic has now taken just eight career shots on goal, with five finding the back of the net for Tommie goals.
“Redlands gave us a lot of problems in the first half, and we created our own problems, too,” said Lowery who was coaching his 100th game for St. Thomas on Sunday. “It took an unbelievable effort by Tony to get the first goal, and then to tie it a few minutes later was just as unbelievable.” Lowery is now 62-25-13 in his five years as coach.