Maryville College claimed their second USA South Athletic Conference Tournament Title in three years on Saturday night, as the Scots toppled Covenant College, 1-0.
The Orange and Garnet tallied an early second-half goal, as they followed another stellar defensive effort to hold on for the one-goal victory.
MC's defense gave up just one goal over three USA South Tournament matches, as defender Kyle Bennett was named the tournament's MVP for his efforts.
"It's pretty special," Head Coach Pepe Fernandez said. "They defended. We ask a lot. We ask them to be very brave and try to play good soccer. That can lead to mistakes, and it led to a lot of mistakes early in the year. Putting that added pressure on them – instead of just asking them to defend – is really a challenge. They were able to do both. They were able to contribute on both ends of the field. On turf in brutal hot weather on the road or at home in the mud, they've been able to find a way to get it done."
Bennett – along with his defensive counterparts – held Covenant to just four second-half attempts.
The Georgian Scots tallied just one shot on frame all night in MC's Championship run.
"We just called to the offense to get us a goal," Bennett – a senior – said. "We'll grind it out. We've been doing it all tournament and all season. The whole back line, the goalie, the midfielders – everyone – it was just a total team effort. I'm just proud of the team and proud to get this trophy. I said to the boys yesterday, and I said it again today. 'We have 90 minutes, guaranteed. That's all the soccer we've got left.' We took care of business, and it's not done yet. I'm looking forward to the NCAA Tournament."
With the win, Maryville College earns an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Scots will learn the opponent on Monday, Nov. 5 in the Division III Selection Show. A time will be announced later this week.
"You know, they've just been unbelievable," Fernandez said. "When we headed down to LaGrange and Huntingdon, I was looking at the schedule hoping that we might make one of the top four seeds to even get in the tournament. We've got to find a way to win every single game. We won against Huntingdon late, and it kind of set the stage. It just kept happening. I think a lot of it is when you have great seniors with character like this, that are classy people, great soccer players, great athletes and they give their all for Maryville, great things happen. I couldn't be happier for them."
Nate Long also made All-Tournament as a defender, as Ryan Jorgensen was named to the squad in goal. Kai Miettinen and Randy Reichenberger made All-Tournament as forwards, as Trevor McDonald was tabbed to the list as a midfielder.
Maryville and Covenant went to the break tied at 0-0. The Georgian Scots held a slight shots advantage in the first stanza at 7-6, as both squad struggled to find the goal. The two teams had a shot on goal apiece, as Maryville was hindered by an offsides call.
Covenant had three corner kicks to one in the first 45 minutes.
McDonald had two of MC's six shots, as the other four were dispersed amongst four Scots. Chris Fernandez managed the only shot on frame for Maryville, while Covenant saw Jonathan Barrett record a trio of shots with one on goal.
Maryville got on the board first in the 50th minute off only their second corner kick of the match. Milan Card found Chris Fernandez at the top of the box, as Fernandez dished it off to McDonald. McDonald attempted a cross into the box that was popped up by a defender. The junior collected the loose ball with a right-footed blast to the lower left from 15 yards, as MC went up 1-0 at the 49:51 mark.
"It was really great," McDonald said. "We worked so hard, and there were several opportunities that we missed in the first half. We hit it over the crossbar and wide of the post a few times, so that was frustrating. It wasn't good composure to finish the first half, so we just came out the second half and got a goal early to get them momentum going our way. We just grinded it out the rest of the half."
For the match, Maryville tallied 12 shots to Covenant's 11. The Scots held a 5-2 advantage on corner kicks, while posting a pair of shots on frame.
"It was great, especially on our home field," Bennett said. "They came in here and beat us 3-0 early in the season, and that was in the back of our minds. As a defense, that was embarrassing to us. Tonight, we had to come out here and lock them down, and we did a good job of that."
Follow mcscots.com and Maryville College Athletics on social media via @MCScots for an announcement of the NCAA Selection Show on Monday.