MANSFIELD, Conn. -- Darion Richeme scored twice in the first 26 minutes and Daniel Szabo made a game-saving save with two seconds left as the fourth-seeded Western Connecticut State University men's soccer team eliminated top seed Eastern Connecticut State University, 2-1, to advance to the championship match of the 2018 Little East Conference playoffs Saturday at the Mansfield Outdoor Complex.
In Saturday's second semifinal, Connor Downey came off the bench to score the only goal of the match with five minutes left to carry second-seeded Keene State College past No. 3 University of Massachusetts Boston.
The championship match is scheduled for noon Sunday at the Mansfield Complex on the campus of Eastern Connecticut.
It marks the tenth time in the 20-year history of the championship that either defending champion Western (16-3-3) or Keene State (13-5-0) have advanced to the final. The teams have met only once in the final game, however, with Western winning the first of its three championships with the victory over Keene in 2003. The Owls are a six-time champion, last winning over Rhode Island College in 2010.
Richeme scored on similar plays for his seventh and eighth goals of the season. The first followed a corner kick by Ricardo Rodriguez.
Trailing 2-0, Eastern (15-4-0) pulled to within a goal on junior Max Parent's (Yarmouth, MA) unassisted goal with 58 seconds left. After the kickoff, the Warriors gained control and had three shots on net in the final ten seconds, with Szabo reaching out with his right hand to deflect a shot seemingly headed inside the left post as the Colonials avenged a 4-3 regular-season loss to Eastern Sept. 26 at Thomas Nevers Field.
After Richeme scored twice, Western continued to threaten, with a shot carrying over the head of Eastern senior keeper Ryan Murphy (Cromwell), and bouncing straight down after hitting the crossbar. Leading scorer Chauncey Allers followed by volleying the ball over the top of the crossbar moments later.
Eastern's first best chance came 16 minutes into the second half when freshman Patrick Agyemang (East Hartford) headed junior Griffin Luczek's (Lee, NH) cornerkick toward the post, where Szabo covered it. After second-half sophomore keeper Kyle Boutot (Tolland) made consecutive standout saves to keep the deficit at two goals, Luczek sent a header off a long throw-in toward goal, but right at Szabo,
Until the final seconds, Szabo's best save that preserved the shutout to that point came with six minutes left on shot following Agyemang's cross from the right side.
Keene had the better of play against UMass Boston (9-10-2) – a winner of three straight until Western broke the streak last year – but the Owls could not beat UMass keeper Omar Castro-Dreher until just 5:02 remained. Soon after entering the game, Downey took a feed from Yusufu Jume and ripped a one-timer from the left side hard off the crossbar. The ball was cleared, but Downey followed it up moments later with a low drive through traffic in the middle of the box that Castro-Dreher had no chance on.
Keene, which ended the season with a 2-1 overtime loss at UMass Boston that cost the Owls a share of first place and the No. 1 tournament seed, outshot the Beacons, 21-4 and limited their opponent to just one corner kick.