Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, which the men’s soccer team took advantage of in a 2-0 win over Richard Stockton College in its first playoff game since 2010.
In a tightly contested, fast-paced 90 minutes featuring two defenses on the top of their games, it took a stroke of luck for the Lions (7-2-1 in NJAC play) to break the deadlock in the 70th minute through freshman midfielder Nick Costelloe, who took a shot from the top of the box that deflected off a defender and into the net.
“Stockton was a very strong opponent and it was definitely a back and forth game,” Costelloe said. “In the second half, we were putting a lot of pressure on Stockton and created some goal-scoring chances. The breakthrough was very fortunate. I was lucky to have my shot deflected and the bounce caught the keeper off guard.”
The Lions did not let up after Costelloe’s opener, piling the pressure on the Ospreys despite the lead, and it paid off soon after: Senior forward Kevin Shaw scored his 20th goal of the year off a feed from sophomore defender Greg Kaye in the 78th minute, effectively icing the game off.
“After the goal, it was just a matter of keeping the pressure on the Stockton defense,” Costelloe said. “Normally, if we score the first goal late in a game, we become very defensive and change our style of play. I think the team did a great job of pressuring Stockton and searching for the second goal. We knew the game wasn’t over after our first goal and that was enough motivation to go for another and really put away the game.”
For its part, the Lions defense held firm the rest of the way, with senior goalkeeper Aaron Utman making five saves for the team’s third shutout in six games — a stretch in which the College has not allowed more than a goal.
“The defense has been incredible and consistent and Aaron Utman has been at his best,” Costelloe said. “The back line has become very organized. (Junior defender) Ryan Sullivan and (sophomore defender) Dan McMillan have been the two anchors in the back that have really kept the team organized.”
The clutch defensive efforts paved the way elsewhere on the field, too, whether it came from confidence in the team’s ability to keep a clean sheet or senior defensive midfielder Sean Casey springboarding the offense in transition and keeping the Lions’ counter attack razor sharp.
“Knowing that we have a clutch keeper between the posts boosts the team’s confidence and allows us to play attacking soccer,” Costelloe said. “Casey’s work rate just in front of the back line provides support on the defensive end and almost all of our attacks come through him. I think off the field, as well, our defenders are all leaders that the whole team can look up to.”
The Lions’ success heading into and during the playoffs has been a complete team effort, though, with all 11 players on the field playing with playoff intensity at the most crucial part of the season.
“At this point in the season, everyone on the team understands that every game could be the last,” Costelloe said. “We are all playing with the seniors in mind because we want to help them continue their careers here at TCNJ. With that in mind, we play each game with high intensity.”
The Lions’ schedule only gets harder from here on, though, as they travel to No. 3 Rutgers-Camden — who the College tied 1-1 in Lions Stadium earlier this year — in a do-or-die semi-final on Wednesday, Nov. 6.
“Rutgers-Camden is a tough opponent that played a very physical game against us earlier in the season,” Costelloe said. “It will be a tough game but we are up for the challenge and can’t wait to get back on the field.”