HARRISONBURG, Va. – Junior goalkeeper Josh Pantazelos made a career-high 10 saves and Virginia Commonwealth University clinched a spot in the four-team Colonial Athletic Association Tournament with a 3-2 victory against James Madison on Wednesday night.
VCU improves to 8-3-6 with a 5-1-4 mark in CAA play, while James Madison falls to 9-6-2, 4-5-1.
"That was a gutsy team performance at a critical time for this young but rapidly maturing team," said VCU Head Coach Dave Giffard. "JMU is as dangerous of an attacking team as I have seen this year and for us to be able to gut out a result here is a big step for this team. I was very proud of our guys tonight as they showed tremendous character and took ownership of our team and its identity.
"The fact that it locks up a spot in the CAA Tournament with a second place finish is just icing on the cake," Giffard continued. "I told the guys that it won't be often that we celebrate being second, but for now we'll take it along with the opportunity to extend our season and play in Williamsburg next weekend. But first thing is first, we turn our attention to a Delaware team that hasn't lost a home game in conference yet this year on Sunday."
VCU came out on fire as the Rams collected three of the first four shots of the match and took a 1-0 lead on a Van Yahres (pictured, right) strike in the sixth minute. Sophomore Alberto Fonseca's offering was blocked and Van Yahres took the deflection and found the right corner from seven yards out.
Pantazelos then made back-to-back saves in the 12th minute as reigning College Soccer News National Player of the Week C.J. Sapong blasted consecutive strikes. Pantazelos then came up with another stop on a shot by Kieran Rice at the 21:52 mark.
The James Madison defense settled down after Van Yahres' goal as the Dukes held VCU without a shot for 28-straight minutes before Fonseca fired a strike wide of the net with less than 12 minutes to go in the first half.
Markus Bjorkheim tried to even the score in the 37th minute but Pantazelos was there for his fourth save. James Madison goalie Ken Manahan, who made three first half stops of his own, returned the favor five minutes later on another Van Yahres shot.
Much like VCU did to start the match, James Madison found the net less than three minutes into the second half as Steven Mashinski took feeds from Christian McLaughlin and Sapong and evened the score at 1-1.
However, the Rams didn't back down and eventually regained the lead in the 64th minute when Gehin-Scott (pictured, left) scored his career-high eighth goal of the year. Less than four minutes later, Van Yahres and freshman Jason Johnson connected passes to Mwila, who added an insurance goal and VCU quickly went ahead 3-1.
The Black & Gold continued to pressure and forced Manahan, who collected seven saves on the night, to make three more stops during a four-minute stretch with less than 20:00 to play.
James Madison took advantage of a deflection in front of the VCU net with less than six minutes to go in regulation and Bjorkheim pulled the Dukes within 3-2 with a strike from seven yards out.
Pantazelos then made his 10th save in the 89th minute as James Madison rallied late but ultimately couldn't overcome a two-goal deficit.
The Dukes held a 23-12 advantage in shots and a 9-3 margin in corner kicks. James Madison had 12 shots on goal, while VCU finished with 10.
The Rams conclude the regular season on Sunday, Nov. 7 with a 1 p.m. match at Delaware. VCU begins CAA Tournament play Nov. 12 in Williamsburg, Va.