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Early strikes send Fort Lewis College into RMAC soccer semifinals

Third showdown with No. 15 Mines awaits Friday

Before either team had settled into the rhythm of the match, the Fort Lewis College men’s soccer team struck.

The Skyhawks attacked from the opening minute Tuesday on the road at Salt Lake City against the Westminster College Griffins. It was the quarterfinal round of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference tournament.

In the seventh minute, Loic Jean-Baptiste worked his way up the left side of the field and fired a shot at Westminster goalkeeper Noah Larkin, who dove to the far post to make a save but couldn’t control the ball. In stormed FLC’s Brantley Bice to gather the rebound and place a shot past Larkin for an early Skyhawks goal.

FLC wasted no time in striking again, either. Ciaran Feeney found the ball in the 14th minute and placed another clean strike past Larkin to send the Skyhawks to a 2-0 lead it would hold onto to advance to the RMAC semifinals.

“We had talked about finishing better all season. Today, we found that little extra focus in those final moments and scored two really nice goals,” FLC head coach David Oberholtzer said. “We got a little breathing room, but Westminster is a good team, so we had to defend for a good amount of time with them pushing numbers forward, but we’re supper happy with it.

“We created maybe five breakaways and one-on-one situations but didn’t finish those off. I would have liked to see us finish a few more of those opportunities off, but we stuck to our game plan and didn’t concede many good looks. We defended well, and it was a good team effort.”

Peter Bryne earned the shutout in goal, as the FLC keeper made seven saves.

FLC (5-2-1) will get a matchup in the semifinals it almost expected all season, as a rested Colorado School of Mines will await at 4 p.m. in Grand Junction. FLC has faced the No. 15 Orediggers (5-0-1) twice already this season, both ending in 1-0 losses. Mines beat FLC in the final minutes of double overtime in the match played in Durango, while it was a late second-half goal for the Orediggers that sent them to the same result at home a week later in Golden.

Now, the inevitable matchup Friday on a neutral field at Colorado Mesa University will decide which team advances to the RMAC final.

“It’s been in the back of my head that we would have a third opportunity to see Mines,” Oberholtzer said. “We didn’t want to look past Westminster, so that’s where our focus was. But now the guys know we have Mines on Friday, they’re going to be excited and ready to get them.”

Oberholtzer called out his team for not scoring enough on good created opportunities after the second 1-nil loss to the Orediggers. The team responded with a 4-0 home win against Adams State to close the regular season before the 2-0 win Tuesday at Westminster (3-3-1). Now, he feels his team is ready to take the next step to get past Mines.

“We have to take our chances. The first two times, we felt we created chances and are confident we will be able to do that again. We just have to take that and finish it,” Oberholtzer said. “Scoring the goal is all important. We’ve had two clean sheets in a row and six goals in our last two games, so hopefully we are hitting our stride.”

In the other RMAC semifinal Friday, top-seed Colorado Mesa will host Regis at 7 p.m. The championship is scheduled for 6 p.m. Sunday in Grand Junction.