Knights conclude season with win

Better late than never.

The Gannon University soccer team scored twice late to defeat rival Mercyhurst College in Saturday’s 2-0 season finale win.

The win snapped a two-game losing streak to the Lakers, and left the Knights with a fresh taste in their mouths.

“It feels good to go out on a high note,” senior defender Mario Gastaldo said. “It would have definitely been better to make the playoffs, but any time you can beat your rival to end the season is a good win.”

Gannon’s win, coupled with the results from other conference matches on Saturday, eliminated the Lakers from the final spot in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference tournament. The win was a payback of sorts for the Knights, after Mercyhurst’s 1-0 win in 2010 dashed Gannon’s playoff hopes.

Coach Rob van Rheenen also increased his all-time Gannon wins mark to 150.

“It was a great way to finish an otherwise disappointing season,” he said. “The team worked hard and it was a good way to send off our seniors.”

Under the lights at Gannon University Field, some 485 fans braved the wet and rainy conditions to witness both teams struggle to get anything going on offense.

Gannon mustered only one shot, while Mercyhurst managed six in the first half.

Out of the locker room, the Gannon defense bent but did not break, as redshirt junior goaltender Michael Kickel made five second-half saves to deny the Lakers any scoring opportunity. Kickel, who finished with seven saves for the game, made a critical diving save in the 66th minute to keep the game scoreless.

Junior midfielder Sean Washek broke the game open 15 minutes later, when he beat the goalie off a pass from sophomore forward Faycal Benjelloun

After Kickel made another crucial save several minutes later, freshman forward Robbie Bennett took advantage of a vacated Mercyhurst defense and sealed the win with an unassisted breakaway.

In his first collegiate season, Bennett led Gannon with 12 goals and 29 points.

Gastaldo said the Knights executed their strategy well.

“We’ve struggled all year letting goals in, so our plan was to score on counter attacks off their shots,” he said.

Gannon finished the regular season at 7-9-2 overall and 3-5-1 in PSAC play, while Mercyhurst concluded with 10-7 and 4-5 marks.

Van Rheenen said he is disappointed with Gannon’s season, but he believes the Knights will bounce back.

“Anytime a program that is well supported in regards to scholarships finishes with a losing record, it is very disappointing,” he said. “Looking at the players returning for the fall of 2012, the future of the Gannon soccer program in my opinion is bright.”

JOE CUNEO

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