BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The ascending Bucknell men’s soccer team gobbled up another three points Wednesday night, riding two early goals from freshman Matt Thorsheim and nine saves in goal from emergency starter Emmett Witmer to a 2-1 win over Lehigh at the Ulrich Sports Complex.
Bucknell’s first road victory of the season could not have come at a better time. It moved the Bison to 4-3 in Patriot League play (6-7-3 overall), and they are now just a single point behind the third-place Mountain Hawks (10-5-1, 4-2-1) with two games remaining in the regular season.
Frontrunners Loyola and Boston University both won on Wednesday to get to 18 points, followed by Lehigh with 13 and Bucknell with 12. Ten-man Holy Cross scored late in regulation and again in overtime to stun Colgate 4-3 and move into fifth place with 10 points. Lafayette also made a late rally in a 3-2 win at Navy to leapfrog both Colgate and Army into the sixth and final playoff spot with nine points.
Facing by far the highest scoring team in the Patriot League – Lehigh came in with 30 goals in 15 games – Bucknell took command early in this one with two goals from Thorsheim within the game’s first quarter-hour.
After just 2:39 of play, the Bison had the lead. Ben Derleth played a ball in the air that Stefan Gollisz won at the back post. Gollisz chested it down and laid a pass in front to Thorsheim who cleaned it up from inside the six-yard box.
Witmer was called on for two saves not long after the goal, and then Thorsheim made it 2-0 at the 11:05 mark. Derleth got past his man to the inside and got a shot on goal. Will Smith made the save but could not control the rebound, and Thorsheim punched it in for his fifth goal of the season and first career multi-goal game.
Lehigh pressed hard after the stunning two-goal flurry from the Bison, but Witmer and the back line held strong and protected the lead. Witmer, who made 10 starts as a freshman last season, drew his second of 2017 in place of injured starter Ryan Ott. He was at his very best in the second half, making a number of quick-reaction saves. The nine stops marked a new career high.
Lehigh did pull one back in the 52nd minute. Alex Greene took a low shot that appeared to be headed wide, but it ricocheted off a Bucknell defender and past a helpless Witmer into the back of the net.
Witmer made a tough save on a dangerous free kick in the 54th minute. He made a point-blank stop in the 68th on Greene followed by his best stop of the night with a dive to his left to keep out a close-range header from Patriot League scoring leader Mark Forrest.
The Bison settled in and kept the ball out of harm’s way for the next 20 minutes. They had to dodge one final bullet as the clock ticked down to 20 seconds, as a defender appeared to lose a ball in the lights and pulled his clearance attempt back toward his own goal and solidly off the right post.
Lehigh finished with a 24-6 shot advantage, in part because the tenor of the game changed with the two early Bucknell goals. The Bison defended eight corner kicks in the game. Smith made two saves in goal for Lehigh.
“Emmett Witmer was real sharp tonight,” said head coach Brendan Nash. “He has been playing well in training and he was ready when we needed him. We were fortunate to get the early 2-0 lead, and it really changed the complexion of the game. It made it tough for us to continue with our game plan because Lehigh pressed hard for a long period of time and put us into a defensive shell.”
With the victory, Bucknell drew even at 27-27-9 in an in-state series that dates back to 1960.
Bucknell plays its final regular-season home game on Saturday against Patriot League co-leader Boston University at 1 p.m. Seniors Derleth, Dan Bank and Jack Zollicoffer will be honored before the contest.