Drake Headers Knock No. 17 UK From NCAA Tournament
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Kentucky sophomore midfielder Kevin Barajas’ first-half equalizer was not enough as Drake headed two goals in an NCAA Tournament first-round win over No. 17 Kentucky on Thursday at The Bell.
James Grunert eluded markers atop the six-yard box and headed an Alex Prusa cross inside the left upright on 75 minutes to score what proved to be the decider.
The loss ended a Kentucky season in which the Wildcats won the first Conference USA title in program history.
Kentucky finished the season 12-5-2. Drake improved to 13-4-3 this season and advanced to the second round where the Bulldogs will play No. 12-seed Creighton on Sunday.
Drake’s bright start to the match paid dividends on 19 minutes as Alec Bartlett broke free on the six-yard box and hit a free header on frame that was brilliantly saved by All-American goalkeeper Callum Irving. But Bartlett was first to the rebound and tapped home to give the visitors a deserved 1-0 lead.
But UK’s response was immediate. Perhaps a reaction to Irving’s unorthodox 11-deep huddle meeting to rally the troops following the initial concession Kentucky earned a corner just a minute after the restart.
The Wildcats took advantage of the chance. Kristoffer Tollefsen’s delivery was brilliant finding the forehead of an unmarked Kevin Barajas who made no mistakes to equalize. The goal was Barajas’ second of the season.
After the goal, Kentucky had the better chances of the second half, but the two teams went in to the dressing rooms tied a one apiece.
Grunet’s goal broke the deadlock in what was prior to that a cagey second stanza.
Kentucky threw numbers forward in the final quarter of an hour, but couldn’t quite connect enough in the final third to seriously trouble the Drake back-line.
“Disappointed, of course,” UK head coach Johan Cedergren said. “Tough game. We have to give a lot of credit to Drake and the coaching staff. They had a tough week last week. They played three games in five days but they definitely came up and I thought they did a good job pressing us and putting us in situations where we kind of ran out of time on the ball.
“We could have done a little better but I thought the guys battled. The guys that we had healthy I thought they fought and they hung in there. I thought it was a pretty even game but in the end, we switch off on a cross, which we’ve talked about before in terms of the scout and what they’re looking to score off of and then they punish us.”
“I love this place,” Irving said. “I came in as a freshman and it didn't quite go exactly as I had planned. Everyone comes in with a thought of how they want it to go, and it went the exact opposite of that. The coaching staff had a lot of faith in me still, as well as my teammates. I kind of found my place here and found my home. Over the past three years, I can see where we built it from and see that I had an impact on it. I just feel really lucky to be here the past four years. I have enjoyed my time, and I think I will be following UK men’s soccer forever. It is my family now.”
Callum Irving concluded the season 0.66 goals-against average, which was the second-best single-season output in school history. Greg Raber had a 0.40 GAA in 2001 for the program record.
Raber played 1,137 minutes, allowing five goals that year in 12 games compared with Irving’s 1772:35 (13 goals allowed in 19 games).
Kentucky made the NCAA Tournament for the third of back-to-back C-USA coach of the year Johan Cedergren’s four years at the helm of the program. Cedergren reached three NCAA Tournaments in quicker succession than any other coach in UK history.
Thursday’s match was the first meeting between Drake and Kentucky.