There was a scenario where, if the Medaille men's soccer team beat Penn State-Behrend on Tuesday at D'Youville, the Mavericks would win the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference regular-season title, earn a first-round bye and avoid facing both Mount Aloysius and Behrend in the postseason.
Behind an incredibly disciplined and organized defense - as well as the stellar goalkeeping of conference preseason defensive player of the year Chris Ralph - Penn State-Behrend blanked Medaille, 1-0, and left the Mavericks with a daunting playoff slate.
"Look, it's very frustrating because [earning] that No. 1 seed is so important," said Medaille center back Sam Beesley. "Now we have to play the first round Saturday against a D'Youville team who's much improved this year. That's another game where we could have really done with that rest.
"Then we go to Mount away, which we struggled with last time, and then Behrend away, so we're not getting any hometown advantages for that big match."
Tuesday's loss was the third-straight against Behrend in which Medaille failed to dent the score sheet; the Lions ousted the Mavericks 4-0 in last year's AMCC championship game.
"I think [Tuesday] was progress if you want to compare it to the AMCC final, but at the end the day we've fallen short because we haven't finished our chances," said head coach Micky Blythe flatly. "You can't beat Behrend without scoring whether it's in Erie, Buffalo or wherever it is."
Medaille out-shot the visitors, 13-8, but Behrend actually placed more on target, 5-3.
*1-0, Penn State-Behrend, 14': Behrend sophomore Aaron Harris dribbled into the heart of the Medaille defense, drawing attention from the Mavs back line. Lions forward Dakota Lange gave his teammate an option to his left, which Harris accepted with a square pass.
Despite a narrow angle, Lange's left-footed smash blew past Medaille keeper Callum Christie and inside the near post. It was Lange's first goal of the season.
"I thought we played very well today, and I thought we actually played very well in the 4-nil loss in the AMCC final, but the difference between us and Behrend at the moment is they're clinical ... They had that one shot and bang, in the back of the net," said a frustrated Beesley.
MEDAILLE'S BEST CHANCES: The Mavericks poured on the pressure in spurts of the first half, exposing a typically composed defense to threaten Ralph, who saved spectacularly once and benefited from luck another time.
In the 29th minute, Medaille's Mitchell Ali settled a bounce in the box, flicked the ball up to himself and volleyed cheekily toward Ralph's right upper-90. The sophomore keeper rose to the challenge, acrobatically batting the ball over the net while in mid-air, leaving Ali in shock that the match wasn't leveled.
Nine minutes later, a galloping run down the middle by Lachlan Wilkinson, sparked by a burst of speed as the Australian forward approached the 18-yard box, led to a powerful lefty strike that Ralph deflected over his head toward the back post.
Instead of dropping into the net or falling to a lurking Medaille forward, the rebound ricocheted off the crossbar and bounced right back to Ralph, much to the Mavs' chagrin.
Beesley expressed his thoughts about the issues in the final third.
"I think it might be more of a mental thing," he said. "We've piled it on against other teams, and we know Chris Ralph is a quality keeper - everyone in the league knows that - but when we get in front of goal, we're just not taking our time and being calm, and just finishing - not rushing.
"This year, as well, we've created so many chances, but sometimes in front of goal, we just panic and we don't just place it - we collapse on the ball."
MAVS ADJUST: Changes were abundant at halftime for the home side, more in positioning than in personnel. Given Holy Gbode, the most threatening Mav in the first 45', moved to a lone striker role, with Wilkinson dropping back as an attacking center mid.
Anthony Marafioti, usually a marauding right back, pushed farther up the wing.
Levi Bojang, a starter at time last season, entered as the right back. Matt Burke, the holding center midfielder who was dinged up twice in the first, including seconds before Behrend's goal, did not return to the game.
"We wanted to increase the tempo and the urgency second half," Blythe explained of the switches. "We did put some bodies forward. I wanted to get at Behrend a bit and make them make decisions in the final third. You see they defend with six, seven, eight, nine, 10 regularly. We were just a bit short of ideas in the final third when push came to shove."
The changes had an adverse effect. Medaille's shots fell from 10 in the first half to three in the second, including just one on target. Frustration simmered then boiled over, with exasperated body language and heated exchanges between teammates marring the second half.
BEESLEY STANDS OUT: The 24-year-old sophomore from Australia has been Blythe's steadiest player, a rock in the back. Most center backs don't stand 5'8, but Beesley times his challenges well in the air, is exceptionally tough and poised with his feet. It's his leadership, however, that could be his best quality, and the one stressed by his head coach.
"They're a testament of the man that he is," Blythe remarked. "He's not just like that on the field, he's like that off the field - a leader of men. He's really come into his own this year. He's colossal for us at the back, and certainly someone the rest of the program looks up to and someone I trust in the heart of our back four."
BIG PICTURE WORRIES: Medaille's standards and expectations are that of an NCAA Tournament team; Blythe is adamant he's not satisfied with merely contending in the AMCC, certainly not one of NCAA Division III's power conferences.
Conquering the conference has been a challenge - with Behrend the chief barrier - as Medaille hasn't reached an NCAA Tournament since 2012. What is Medaille lacking?
"I don't think it's about soccer-wise, I think it's a mindset where we believe in ourselves to get over the final hurdle and win an AMCC and go into an NCAA Tournament," commented Blythe. "The talent we have in the program is immense. We've recruited some fantastic players and you'll see that in flashes. But can we pull that when it really counts?"
WHAT'S NEXT: Medaille will host D'Youville, the No. 6 seed, at 5 p.m. Oct. 28. The "host" label means nothing, as the Mavs and Spartans share the same home field. Should the Mavericks move on, they'd travel to Mount Aloysius for a 2 p.m. semifinal clash on Nov. 1.
"I wanted another game against Mount Aloysius," noted Beesley. "I think it was an injustice in them beating us the first time."
FINAL WORD: "The boys need to feel that pain, feel like us returners felt last year in that loss against Behrend, and hopefully the next couple days after feeling that will motivate them and put the fire in them, and we'll come back stronger. I honestly think we can win this championship." - Sam Beesley, Medaille center back
Medaille: Callum Christie; Joel Rodwell, Kyle Ferguson, Sam Beesley, Anthony Marafioti; James Lang, Pablo Ballesteros, Mitchell Ali, Matt Burke, Given Holy Gbode; Lachlan Wilkinson. Subs used: Mo Hussein, Levi Bojang, Jack Swinhoe, Claudio Ramondino.
Penn State-Behrend: Chris Ralph; Nick Schwarzel, Andrew Mastovich, Josh Kolarac, Ryan Maurer; Christian Eckberg; Matt Dziadosz, Aaron Harris, Matt Baleno, Nick McKee; Dakota Lange. Subs used: Cole Ferguson, Richard Blanchard, Zhafar Dzhabarov, Nick Kisiel, Ryan Segar, James Young, Nolan Beresford, Michael DiCola.