Colorado Mesa University traveled down to Wichita Falls, Texas on Sunday to take on the No. 1 team in the country, Midwestern State University (MSU), in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Hoping to become spoilers, the Mavericks were looking to end the Mustangs undefeated season. Their quest would come up short however as the Mustangs would run away with a 3-0 win to advance to the next round, thus ending CMU’s season.
“Tough day,” Head coach Todd Padgett said. “[…] Their high pressure got the better of us today. Unfortunately, we were not technically able to show I think the team that we are. I think that you have to give Midwestern nothing but credit for that.”
The game was a back and forth battle in the first half, with both teams having several scoring opportunities. It wasn’t until the 39 minute that the Mustangs were able to break the 0-0 tie. Kristian Martinez was able to send a cross to the near post on the goal, and there Patrick Fitzgerald met the pass and headed it in for the score.
Despite being down 1-0 heading into the half, the Mavericks were right within striking distance of the best team in the nation. MSU finished with only two more shots in the half (6-4) but had three more fouls than the Mavericks.
Only a few minutes into the second half, however, the game changed. In the 59 minute, MSU sent a ball into the box where Malik Mennana was standing and called it a handball against CMU. This gave the Mustangs a penalty kick opportunity, and Fitzgerald took advantage.
Briley Guarneri was in net for the Mavericks and he dove to his right, but Fitzgerald went all left and scored his second of the game to give the Mustangs the 2-0 advantage. That score forced a different approach for CMU for the remainder of the match.
“Did it change the game, absolutely,” Padgett said. “It took a 1-0 game early in the second half and made it 2-0. From that point on we have to change tactically. We have to go and chase. If it remains 1-0 I think we stick with our game plan and we believe something would fall to us, but 2-0 down with 30 minutes to play you have to go and chase. You have to go and try and get that first goal.”
Being forced to chase gave all the power to MSU. It brought the Mavericks outside of their comfort zone and forced them to play a style they had not had to play for much of the season.
In the 70 minute, the Mavericks looked to have cut the lead in half. Moshe Perez was able to beat a couple defenders down the field and chip shot it over the diving MSU keeper. However, inches before the ball crossed the line a flying Mustangs defender got his foot behind the ball and cleared it before it was called a Maverick goal.
Ten minutes later the Mustangs would strike for the third time, which would ultimately be the dagger. On a two on two breakaway, Carlos Flores received a give and go pass from Ross Fitzpatrick who buried it past Guarneri.
CMU had one opportunity as the game winded down on a Kevin Del Mazo break down the sideline, however, the goal was called back due to Del Mazo being offsides. That would allow the Mustangs to get the 3-0 shutout victory over CMU.
“There were a lot of things that were left out there that we could’ve done a little bit better,” Guarneri said. “They are the number one team in the country and they live on stuff like that. They wait for the other team to make a mistake and they pounce, that is why they are in the position that they are.”
“Do I think a three-nil scoring line is justified in that game, probably not,” Padgett said. “But at the same time, they took advantage of the opportunities that they had and we couldn’t.”
CMU finished with 13 shots on the day to the Mustangs 18. Guarneri finished with three saves for the Mavericks in goal. Despite being unable to come away with the victory, the Mavericks gave every ounce of energy they had to the final whistle.
“The fight was there up until the last second,” Slater Elkind said. “That kind of embodies who we have been and who we have become.”
Elkind is one of the five seniors on the team that played their final game in a Maverick uniform, and for Padgett, seeing them walk off the field is one of the hardest things he ever has to do.
“I think by far and away the hardest thing from the day is the careers of some of our leaders come to an end,” Padgett said. “[…] Ultimately if you could highlight our thanks as a team, as a program, as a university and as a coaching staff to those five guys, I think that is what I would like to have highlighted.”
Elkind, Mennana, Roberto Diaz, Trentin Atkin and Dustin Wagner will all be moving on in the spring, but all five made an impact while with the Mavericks’ organization.
“It has been an honor to be a part of the process of changing a culture,” Elkind said.