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Bentham, Greco propel Fredonia to SUNYAC semis in penalty kicks

Ty Bentham actually doesn't like facing penalty kicks. They're a mental battle for goalkeepers, and coaches desperately hope for at most one save in a shootout. Glued to their goal-line by rule, even the best keepers are at a competitive disadvantage.

The Fredonia freshman stood tall in his cage on Saturday, though, turning aside a spot-kick in the sixth round of penalties, setting the stage for teammate Sam Greco to deposit his and send the Blue Devils to the SUNYAC semifinals with a 5-4 win in penalty kicks over Plattsburgh after 110 scoreless minutes.

With the shootout tied at four through five rounds, Plattsburgh freshman Connor Nembach stepped up to the penalty spot, only to see his waist-high shot pushed away by a diving Bentham.

"I actually saw [Nembach] look to my bottom right, so I just figured I'd go the opposite way," said the keeper from Columbus, Ind. "I went the opposite way and made the save."

Knowing his conversion would win the match, senior forward-turned-defender Sam Greco smacked a right-footed shot to the right of Cardinals keeper Patrick Feeley, prompting a mob of Blue Devil players to chase after the winning PK taker.

"I just had a feeling it was coming to me," said Greco, who was nearly chosen as one of the first five shooters. "I've been preparing, and I was ready to go and just finished it off. [Then,] to see everyone chasing me - I didn't know how to react at first - I was just running around. It's great."

Fredonia head coach P.J. Gondek was confident his side could get a result in penalty kicks - noting the "swagger of the East Aurora boys," Ryan Keller and James Ritchie - but the early returns were worrying.

After Alex Price began the shootout with a goal for Plattsburgh, Fredonia central defender Brandon Butts clanged his penalty off the crossbar and almost straight down - but not over the goal line - putting the Blue Devils in a hole.

"When Butts hit the crossbar, I was thinking, 'It's really going to end this way?'" Gondek recalled.

Plattsburgh's Chris Robertson and Fredonia's Keller traded calm finishes, then the Cardinals' Jon Cabeca nailed the top of the crossbar to bring things even again.

Fredonia drew over 350 people to watch the SUNYAC quarterfinal at home against Plattsburgh. (Ben Tsujimoto/Buffalo News)

Fredonia drew over 350 people to watch the SUNYAC quarterfinal at home against Plattsburgh. (Ben Tsujimoto/Buffalo News)

The shooters gained confidence: Plattsburgh's John LaTouche and Sean Maruscsak solved Bentham easily, but Fredonia's Brian Theuerkauf and Bryan Sibble responded in kind. East Aurora's fifth penalty kick, needed to tie in order to go to extra shooters, was nervy, but James Ritchie's rolling shot eluded Feeley's grasp at the left post.

"I could tell you right now that I wasn't looking - I have no recollection of [Ritchie's] PK because I wasn't looking," Gondek said after the match. "All I did was look at my assistant coach, and I saw him react and then clap, so I figured it must have trickled in."

Fredonia's Bryan Sibble cuts back against pressure late in the first half against Plattsburgh. (Ben Tsujimoto/Buffalo News)

Fredonia's Bryan Sibble cuts back against pressure late in the first half against Plattsburgh. (Ben Tsujimoto/Buffalo News)

BENTHAM'S BRILLIANCE: Although his penalty kick stop was the most memorable moment, Bentham's body of work was sublime. He was credited with nine total saves, darted quickly off his line to gather through-balls on several occasions and was flawless in aerial challenges off set pieces, controlling his box like an upperclassman.

"The evolution of Ty in a year's time is absolutely amazing," Gondek gushed. "I've never had a starter as a freshman goalie - he's played the entire year for us except for the first couple games, and I haven't said a word to him in probably two weeks because he's doing everything right.

"He played today like he was a veteran - he was amazing, and he's probably the reason why we're still playing."

Fredonia's Matt Casey, left, defends Plattsburgh attacker Alexis Archilla. (Ben Tsujimoto/Buffalo News)

Fredonia's Matt Casey, left, defends Plattsburgh attacker Alexis Archilla. (Ben Tsujimoto/Buffalo News)

[Related: Fredonia's defeat of Buffalo State earlier in the season]

NO GOALS: The first 110 minutes of the game were more flash than substance, as Fredonia's boisterous crowd of 368 fans created an atmosphere that the level of play failed to match. Plattsburgh's Nick Laurent had two prime opportunities to score in the first half hour but narrowly missed on both.

The home side's best chance came in the 73rd minute, when a first-touch volleyed pass from Keller found Parker Healy on the left wing. Healy slithered around a defender, reached the end line and beat the keeper with a square pass, but Ritchie - well-positioned in front of the goal - inexplicably deflected the ball over the crossbar from three yards out.

With a formidable wind in their face during the second half and the second overtime, Fredonia's two center backs, David Trabold and Butts, were dynamite in the air and sure in their tackles. The Cardinals were unlucky to lose leading scorer Alexis Archilla to a leg injury for the final two minutes of regulation and both overtime periods.

Fredonia's Brian Theuerkauf, No. 13, contests a call with the referee. (Ben Tsujimoto/Buffalo News)

Fredonia's Brian Theuerkauf, No. 13, contests a call with the referee. (Ben Tsujimoto/Buffalo News)

[Look back at @BN_Soccer's tweets from the match, with video and photos]

HISTORY: Saturday's victory was the first postseason win for the Blue Devils since the 2007 SUNYAC title game, when they coincidentally also beat Plattsburgh in penalty kicks.

WHAT'S NEXT: Fredonia will travel to Oneonta on Wednesday for the conference semifinals. The Blue Devils beat Oneonta, 2-1, in the last meeting between the two sides, at the home of the Red Dragons. This Sibble free-kick goal will go down as one of the season's highlights.

FINAL WORD: "It was a wide open 0-0 game. It was highly unusual because we score goals and we give up goals, and we did neither of those things today. We're blessed that we're still playing, and it sucks for Plattsburgh, any time you lose in a shootout." - Gondek

Email Ben Tsujimoto, who saw someone puked on the field for the first time ever, at btsujimoto@buffnews.com

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