The Golden Rams’ postseason run ended in heartbreaking fashion in the NCAA Division II Championship game on Saturday. After winning four straight playoff games, West Chester lost 2-1 against the Barry University Buccaneers.
West Chester was leading 1-0 until a header goal by the Buccaneers’ James Kirkham tied it 1-1 with 12:05 remaining on the clock. Six minutes later, Barry took the lead on a free kick by Stephen Kosmala that got past a diving Will Marshall.
During the game’s final moments, the Golden Rams made a last gasp attempt to tie the game. A foul by Barry University gave West Chester a set piece with 30 seconds left. The kick was headed out of play, which gave Brett Miller a corner kick with 12 seconds remaining. But the kick was blocked by Barry’s defense.
West Chester had jumped out to a first period lead thanks to a header by Senior Jason Pixley. On a corner kick by Miller, Pixley used his 6-foot-1-inch frame to leap over Barry’s defenders and shoot the ball past the Buccaneer’s goalkeeper Marco Sordi. On Thursday, Pixley scored on a similar header in overtime that advanced West Chester to the finals match.
After Pixley’s goal, West Chester only made two shots the rest of game. Their offense played more conservatively in the second half, as they were counting on their defense to seal the win like it has all season.
The Golden Rams’ defense allowed just two goals in their previous four games, and they were shutting down Barry’s explosive offense. Golden Rams’ defenders applied constant pressure to Barry’s attackers, making it difficult for them to get shots on goal.
Only five of Barry’s 20 total shots were on goal, but the Buccaneer’s began to better execute their plays and battled with more urgency late in the second period. They kept attacking West Chester’s stout defense, and eventually broke through with Kirkham and Kosmala’s goals.
While West Chester didn’t finish as NCAA champions, Saturday’s loss shouldn’t overshadow all that the Golden Rams accomplished this season. They reached the NCAA finals for the first time since 1961 and defeated many top ranked teams to get there.
“I could not be prouder of these men,” Head Coach Michael Benn said after Thursday’s semifinal win. “They have had to beat some of the new teams and players in the country. They have met every challenge and have played very well.”
Their postseason journey began with a 2-1 win over Notre Dame Ohio. Sophomore Stephen Thompson scored the game winning goal in the second half to advance West Chester to the third round of the NCAA playoffs where they would play the defending champions—the 17-0-1 University of Charleston.
The Golden Rams stunned the highly talented Charleston team with a 1-0 victory through a goal by Thompson 13 minutes into the game, and a shutout by graduate student Will Marshall. The win made the Golden Rams the Atlantic Regional Champions.
After defeating arguably the best team in the bracket, West Chester defeated Adelphi University 2-0 with goals from Sophomore Doug Goitia and Thompson. This win advanced West Chester to the final four.
In the semifinals against California Poly Pomona, West Chester surged from behind to win 2-1. The Golden Rams were outplayed in the first period, but Marshall kept the score close with several great saves.
The momentum switched to West Chester’s favor when they got a goal from an unlikely source: Freshman Eric Geer, who scored his first ever collegiate goal and tied the game 1-1.
“Eric Greer’s goal was a massive moment,” Benn said. “It came quickly after CPP’s goal and re-established our belief that we could win the game.”
The Rams won the game in overtime when Daniel Grindrod’s assist enabled Pixley to score on a header. Out of Pixley’s nine goals this season, six of them have been game winners.
“The team’s bond and chemistry is what sets them apart,” Benn said after defeating California. “A collection of high-character, quality people that are willing to sacrifice personal goals in the interest of the group.”
The loss on Saturday was the first time West Chester lost a game since Sept. 23, and they finished the season with a 16-3-5 record. The Golden Rams will look to build off their success from this season, and return back to the National Finals next year.
Brian Devine is a fourth-year student majoring in English and minoring in journalism. BD884861@wcupa.edu