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Skyhawks advance to second round of NCAA tournament

Fort Lewis overcomes 2-0 deficit to defeat UCCS on Friday
Gabriel Legendre of Fort Lewis College tries to get the ball past the University of Colorado Colorado Springs goalie during the second round of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference playoffs at FLC earlier in the season. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Fort Lewis looked to be on the last legs of its season early in the second half Friday against RMAC foe University of Colorado Colorado Springs to start the NCAA Division II regional tournament.

UCCS had outshot the Skyhawks in the first half and scored two goals in the first 52 minutes of regulation.

However, Fort Lewis’ high-powered offense showed up in the second half, sparking a brilliant 3-2 comeback victory to advance to the second round.

Junior forward Tomas Duentes scored for the Skyhawks, as did junior midfielder Thomas Kirkham and junior forward Gabriel Legendre.

“I was really pleased with the grit that the guys showed to overcome the 2-0 deficit,” Fort Lewis coach David Oberholtzer said via text message. “We showed incredible heart and belief to keep fighting and keep our season alive. We were knocking on the door and once we scored the first goal you could feel the momentum starting to shift in our favor.”

The Skyhawks (12-4-4) will face regional host and No. 1 seed Midwestern State University on Sunday, starting at 2 p.m.

The match was scoreless most of the first half. Fort Lewis had plenty of space in the midfield to connect and attack, but it yielded no results.

At the end of the first half, Kolby Raineri scored in the 40th minute to give UCCS a 1-0 lead entering halftime.

UCCS quickly attacked to start the second half and drew a foul in the 18-yard box, which resulted in a penalty kick. Raineri lined it up and took a shot, but Skyhawks freshman goalie Lucas Martin made a huge save and the ball was cleared.

“Leading up to the conference tournament it’s something we train daily,” Oberholtzer said of the penalty kick. “It was an incredible save from Lucas and a massive moment for the team. Those are the moments you need to win big games.”

UCCS didn’t let up and Alex Andersson scored in the 51st minute to give the Mountain Lions a 2-0 cushion. Soon after, the Skyhawks’ offense came alive.

Duenes scored in the 55th minute, and Kirkham notched a goal inside the box in the 64th minute. Just like that, Fort Lewis was right back in it.

In the 86th minute, freshman forward Anton Hjalmarsson got the attention of the defense and passed it to Legendre on the left side, who found the back of the net.

Fort Lewis’ defense held UCCS to just six shots in the second half, compared to 10 in the first half.

“We did a much better job of winning second balls and keeping them pinned in their half,” Oberholtzer said of the second half. “We were able to force them to defend for long spells and strip them of their energy to go forward.”


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