Senior Kai Eckenrode scored three goals to lead the Stetson men's soccer team (3-7-2, 2-3-1 A-Sun) to a 3-2 victory over North Florida (3-12-0, 0-6-0 A-Sun) on Friday evening in an Atlantic Sun Conference "Coaches vs. Cancer" match.
With Hurricane Sandy causing winds of over 25 miles per hour at the Stetson University Athletics Training Center on Friday, many were wondering whether the weather would delay this game's start. In an effort to get the contest in before the storm hit the area, the Hatters and the Ospreys kicked off 15 minutes earlier than the scheduled 7:00 pm start time.
It was just over 14 minutes later that Eckenrode put Stetson on the board. The forward, who came into the game leading the Hatters with two goals on the season, stole the ball from UNF and beat Osprey goalkeeper Brad Sienkiewics, who came running out to prevent the one-v-one attempt for Stetson. Eckenrode simply played the ball around the keeper and scored on the open net to give the Hatters a 1-0 lead early in the match.
Playing without senior captain Luis Ocejo, who was sitting the game out after receiving a red card late in the last match, the Stetson defense gave up a pair of early goals to North Florida. Alex Morrell and Camilo Garcia scored in the 19th and 28th minute respectively to give the ospreys a 2-1 lead and hopes of a fourth win on the season.
Less than four minutes later Eckenrode halted the UNF momentum with his second goal of the night. When junior Raffaele Centofanti beat a defender, carried the ball to the end line, and crossed it into the box, it was Eckenrode who got on the end of it, and one-touched it to the far post. The score in the 32nd minute tied the game at 2-2 going into halftime.
After the break the Stetson defense buckled down, and kept UNF off the board for the entire 45 minutes. Centofanti, junior JJ Bostic, sophomore JJ Lofthouse-Smith, and junior Chris Aguirre each played nearly the full 90 minutes, and stepped up without Ocejo, last year's A-Sun Defensive Player of the Year.
The Hatters still needed to score to earn the three points in league play, and it was Eckenrode who was in the right place at the right time once again. This time the senior received a pass from classmate Jonathan Mendoza, who found Eckenrode open in the middle of the box. The forward controlled the ball, and placed his shot perfectly to the far post and put Stetson on top for good.
The Ospreys didn't give up, and Stetson faced a number of challenges from UNF in the final 27 minutes of action. North Florida's best opportunity came right after Stetson took the lead, but a shot from only 10 yards out was stopped by a diving save from junior Andreas Schnabl, preserving the Hatter lead.
Stetson outshot UNF by a mark of 20-9, and recorded six corner kicks to the Ospreys' one. Schnabl finished with three saves in the win, while Sienkiewicz totaled five in the defeat.
"Sometimes bringing home a win no matter what actually makes a team feel good about themselves," Head Coach T. Logan Fleck said. "When you see success, you can say to your team, - See, you did it. Now we need to do it a lot more."
The Hatters will next host ETSU in their final home game of the season. The Senior Day match is scheduled for 1:00 pm on Sunday. Mendoza, Ocejo, Eckenrode, Joakim Helland, and Caleb Matthews will be recognized for their great careers prior to kickoff.