PAXTON, Mass. – Three Eastern Connecticut State University goalkeepers combined on the team's sixth shutout in the last seven matches in the Warriors' 2-0 non-conference men's soccer victory over Anna Maria College Wednesday evening.
Substituting liberally with Friday's important Little East Conference match upcoming in the final regular-season match of the year, Eastern (14-3-0) outshot Anna Maria (2-15-1), 17-5, and got a first-half penalty-kick goal from junior defender Nick Starkowski (Marlborough) and a second-half goal from sophomore midfielder Jake Pendl (Cromwell).
Junior midfielder Justin Jensen (Wethersfield) set up Pendl's goal midway through the second half with one of Eastern's 18 corner kicks, with freshman defender Max Carlson (Manchester) one-timing Jensen's serve to Pendl for his first collegiate point.
After an Eastern player was taken down in the box, Starkowski converted his third penalty kick in as many tries and recorded his third game-winning goal of the season 11 minutes into the second half to snap a scoreless tie.
Sophomore Jack VanRooyen (Wayland, MA) made his first career start in net for the Warriors, giving way to sophomore Kyle Boutot (Tolland) in the 32nd minute of a scoreless game after stopping one shot. Boutot improved to 3-0 this year and 4-0 lifetime by making two saves in 30 minutes. He gave way to senior Ryan Murphy (Cromwell) with 29 minutes remaining and Eastern leading, 1-0. Murphy came off the bench after 70 straight starts without making a save over the final 29 minutes.
With the 152nd victory of his 12-year Eastern coaching career, head coach Greg DeVito (152-62-24) moves within one of tying legendary coach Tom Nevers as the program's winningest coach. Nevers was 153-76-14 in 18 seasons.
The Warriors enter Friday's match sharing first place with Keene State College with an opportunity to finish with at least a share of their seventh LEC regular-season title under DeVito. Both Eastern and Keene are 6-1-0 in the LEC. While the Warriors host Rhode Island College (1-5-1 LEC) Friday at 7 p.m., Keene visits UMass Boston (4-1-2 LEC) – a winner of three straight LEC playoff championships between 2004 and 2016 -- Saturday at 4 p.m.
Rhode Island has reached the title game of the last three LEC playoffs (losing each time) but needs a win against the Warriors to maintain any hopes of qualifying for this year's six-team LEC playoffs.
A tie for first in the final standings gives Keene the No. 1 seed, based upon its 1-0 win over Eastern in the opening conference match for both teams Sept. 15 at Keene, NH. Eastern and Keene are guaranteed to be the No. 1-2 seeds and will receive first-round byes into the No. 2 semifinals at the site of the No. 1 seed.
After going 2-3-2 in the LEC last year and missing the playoffs for the first time under DeVito, Eastern has matched its season best of six conference wins this year, reaching that total for the fourth time. With each conference team playing eight matches for the first time this year (following the addition of Castleton to the conference), the Warriors would post a record seven triumphs with a victory Friday.
Rhode Island has shut Eastern the last three times the programs have met, with the Warriors last winning, 1-0 in double-overtime at home in the 2015 regular-season contest. Visiting RIC went on to eliminate Eastern, 1-0, in that year's semifinals.
At home this year, Eastern is 6-1-0, 3-0-0 against conference opponents, two of the shutouts coming in its last two conference home games against UMass Boston and Castleton University. At home the Warriors have also come away with 4-3 victories over Trinity College in double overtime and LEC foe Western Connecticut.
At home, freshman Patrick Agyemang (East Hartford) has scored six of his eight goals and recorded three of his four game-winning goals. On home turf, Jensen has three goals and two assists and Murphy has a 5-1-0 record and 1.55 goals-against average.