The ACC men’s soccer championship match was lurching toward overtime Sunday when Maryland’s Patrick Mullins took decisive action. It wasn’t a rasping drive from long distance or a killer pass. It wasn’t even a shot on goal.
Bearing down on the target in the 88th minute but lacking a shooting angle, Mullins drove a low, hard cross that caromed off retreating defender Kevin McBride and into the net to lift the top-seeded Terrapins to a 1-0 victory over Virginia before 4,763 at Maryland SoccerPlex.
“I have seen it happen so many times,” said Mullins, the tournament MVP. “If you put the ball in good spots and play it in there with some pace, good things happen.”
In a tense match with few good things happening, the own goal provided Maryland (13-3-5) with consecutive conference titles and a third in four years — a rousing and bittersweet accomplishment as the program exits the ACC for the Big Ten next season.
While the Terrapins have secured an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament, the sixth-seeded Cavaliers (10-5-5) are almost assured of gaining an at-large spot in the 48-team field, which will be unveiled at noon Monday. Both teams are expected to receive byes and host second-round matches Sunday.
“It was going to take a moment of brilliance by an individual to create something, and the best individual in the land found the will and the skill to create something,” Maryland Coach Sasho Cirovski said of Mullins, the 2012 Hermann Trophy winner and D.C. United’s possible first overall pick in the MLS draft in January.
Mullins (14 goals, seven assists) created the danger by beating defender Matt Brown on the left side of the penalty area and veering toward the target.
As he reached the six-yard box, he crossed into the mix. The ball arrived so quickly, McBride barely had time to react.
“I’m just trying to get a foot on it and direct it toward the sideline, but unfortunately this one went straight in the goal,” said McBride, a graduate of Chantilly High.
Said Virginia Coach George Gelnovatch: “Any time you have a defender running toward his own goal and the ball comes across the box and he’s that close, it’s a tough thing. He probably would have been better off letting it go, but it’s a last-second thing, and it’s hard to get it over or around.”
This meeting was nothing like the regular season clash last month, when the teams combined for six goals in the first 27 minutes during a 3-3 draw. Mullins’s near-post stab in the 84th minute was the greatest threat in a game featuring just four shots on goal.
The Terrapins, who started two freshman center backs and a first-year goalkeeper, recorded a third consecutive shutout and won their seventh straight. They have not conceded multiple goals in a month — a notable trend after yielding 12 in the first five games of the year.
The stout defense and winning form, Cirovski said, “shows we have the championship caliber it takes” to claim a third national title in nine years.
●ATLANTIC 10: Alex Herrera (Yorktown) converted a penalty kick in the 82nd minute as George Mason upset top-seeded Saint Louis, 1-0, in Dayton, Ohio, and clinched an NCAA berth for the first time in five years.
The second-seeded Patriots (12-2-5) are unbeaten in 12 straight. Herrera, who assisted on the overtime goal in the semifinals, was named the tournament’s most outstanding player.
The game was played on artificial turf at a high school because of concerns about the University of Dayton’s grass field as a powerful storm battered the Midwest. The kickoff time was changed twice as well.
●PATRIOT LEAGUE: Navy advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 25 years after defeating Holy Cross, 2-0, in Annapolis.
Geoff Fries scored in the 39th minute and 6-foot-6 defender Joe Greenspan connected on a header in the 47th for the top-seeded Midshipmen (15-3-2), who extended the nation’s longest winning streak to 14.
Gavin Snyder (Severna Park) made one save as Navy recorded a third consecutive shutout and 10th overall.
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