JACKSON – The Belhaven men's soccer team punched their ticket to the round of 16 in the 2013 NAIA National Championships with a hard fought 1-0 victory over the University of St. Thomas (TX) in the opening round Saturday night. The Blazers improve to 4-0 in opening round games with two of those coming against St. Thomas. Belhaven edged the Celts 2-1 in first meeting between the two clubs in 2010.
Belhaven (15-6-1) knew goals would be hard to come by against one of the toughest defenses in the nation and that scenario played out on Saturday night at H.T. Newell Field. St. Thomas came into the game having allowed just 12 goals all season in 18 matches played. Fortunately, the Blazers claimed the only goal of the match late in the first half.
Belhaven had some opportunities midway through the first half thanks to a relentless attack by the offense. The Celts were able to hold their own, especially goalkeeper Jason Taffet who made seven saves in the opening period.
However, persistence finally paid off for the Blazers as they finally found the back of the net in the 43rd minute. On Belhaven's 10th corner kick of the half, Victor Lawrence dropped a perfect pass into the box where Vijay Brahmbhatt was waiting to head it into the right corner of the net. It was Brahmbhatt's second goal of the season and first game winner to his credit in 2013. Lawrence collected his fourth assist of the season.
The goal by Brahmbhatt epitomizes the type of season it has been for the Blazers and the balance they have enjoyed up and down the lineup. Coming into the national tournament, Belhaven had 21 different players score at least one goal. It seems that every game someone different has stepped up and on Saturday night it was Brahmbhatt.
Meanwhile, St. Thomas turned up the pressure offensively in the second half in an effort to tie the match. Belhaven goalie Carl Blundell didn't have to make a lot of saves, but the two he made were crucial. The first was a leaping deflection on a strike off the foot of Carlos Manrique in the 53rd minute and the second denied a potential goal by Jack Brett in the 83rd minute.
The shot by Brett would prove to be the final good look at the goal for the Celts in the match. Belhaven shifted into possession mode for the rest of the half and successfully ran out the clock for the victory.
"Coming into the game we knew how good St. Thomas is and what was most impressive was their defense and we knew it was going to be a difficult test for us," said Belhaven Head Coach Brian McMahon. "I was pleased to find a way to score today because they are a very good team."
David Major ended the night with the most shot attempts of any player with four. As a team, the Blazers fired 21 shots compared to six for St. Thomas. Belhaven had a sizeable advantage in corner kicks as well at 15-2. Taffet ended the match with 11 saves for St. Thomas with Brett recording a team high two shots.
The Blazers will now head back to Montgomery, Alabama, the final site of the 2013 NAIA National Championships, to play 9th seeded Mid-America Nazarene University on Tuesday December 3rd. Mid-America and Kansas Wesleyan played to a scoreless tie, but Mid-America eventually advanced on the penalty kick shootout.
"We know the level of competition we'll be facing and every team is fantastic in the field of 16 teams," added McMahon. "We have a lot of respect for the teams and their coaches and we are happy to back and have the chance to defend the national title."
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