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Fort Lewis College jumps to second behind Jean-Baptiste goal

Skyhawks win fourth in a row

Even up a man for the final 15 minutes, the Fort Lewis College men’s soccer team had to work exceptionally hard in order to preserve its fourth shutout in as many games.

Senior defender Ty Lang cleared a ball off of the goal line, while Peter Byrne had to make a few acrobatic saves in the final 10 minutes, but the Skyhawks’ back line held firm and preserved a crucial 1-0 win.

“This was a huge game for us,” said FLC head coach David Oberholtzer. “We wanted to come out, keep a clean sheet and score some goals and we were able to do that. The first half was by far our best play of the season. Fatigue set in during the second half, and they were pressing to try and get a goal. We were just resilient, kept them off of the scoreboard and continued to battle.”

The teams entered Friday’s contest as the second- and third-place teams in conference, and with a key three points on the line to keep chase with first-place Colorado School of Mines, Westminster and Fort Lewis did not hold anything back.

With yet another clean sheet, the fourth in as many games, and the team’s fifth out of the last six, goalkeeper Peter Byrne said they must keep up the consistency to remain in top defensive form.

“Credit to Westminster for their movement up top,” Byrne said. “That was more challenging than anything, as opposed to some of the saves I made, which were all fairly straightforward. The fourth clean sheet in a row obviously sets standards for our defense. We haven’t given up a lot of shots, and the back four and whole team is working hard. We can’t settle just because we’re only five games into the RMAC season.”

Loic Jean-Baptiste opened the scoring in the 28th minute after he bagged his fourth goal of the season on a brilliant solo effort. After he stole the ball, Brantley Bice made a dummy run down the right flank, and the defender was left in no-man’s land for whom to switch to. Jean-Baptiste created separation by a simple roll over, found enough space to shoot and placed it into the bottom left corner from just inside the 18-yard box to make it 1-0.

“It was three important points today,” Jean-Baptiste said. “They were second and we were third, so we just wanted to win. On my goal, I took a good first touch, the second I pushed it over to the middle and I shot it low and it went in.”

After the Skyhawks (6-0-3, 3-0-1 RMAC) went up, they continued to press the envelope moving forward, as Ryan Lee and Ty Lang were tough to defend and created plenty of positive movement.

In the second half, the match turned sour after the teams had post-action scuffles, including an incident in the 50th minute after Westminster’s Brody Nelson shoved a Skyhawk from behind and the referee showed the first yellow card of the match.

As the game progressed, it continued to be chippy, as three yellow cards would be shown. Nelson was sent off in the 75th minute after a high challenge on the far side of the field caught another FLC player. He was sent off with a second yellow-card offense and the Griffins were reduced to 10 men.

Westminster coach Josh Pittman thought that controversial decisions by the referee cost the Griffins more than just a shot at earning back one point with a potential draw.

“I think the guys played hard, especially when we went down in players,” Pittman said. “I thought the officiating had such an impact on the game today. Obviously, red-carding our player, the game changed completely with (the referees’) inability to control the game. Credit to Fort Lewis for scoring a goal and then win.”

The Skyhawks had three golden opportunities to put the game out of reach, but Ryan Lee had two shots that were just wide of the post, while Jean-Baptiste had another good look that went just over the crossbar.

The Griffins mounted a few more attacks, and Lang was able to keep the ball from going in after he headed away a shot in the 81st minute from Max Bingman. Two minutes later, Byrne made a diving save to his right to keep the Skyhawks in the lead. Despite giving up some late looks, Oberholtzer believes FLC will make good on its chances moving forward.

“We’ve been able to give ourselves a lead and then we like to keep it interesting as opposed to putting a couple of other really good chances in the back of the net,” Oberholtzer said. “We’re creating the chances. We just have to stay confident and at some point, they’re going to finish them off.”

The Skyhawks will host Dixie State (4-3-1, 3-1 RMAC) at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Dirks Field.