On a day of limited chances, Eddie Cass made the most of his.
Cass put Rocky Mountain College ahead 1-0 in the 16th minute and the Battlin’ Bears made the goal stand as they defeated the University of Jamestown in the championship match of the NAIA Unaffiliated Group Tournament played at Wendy’s Field on Saturday afternoon.
The victory, in a match that saw the teams combine for just seven shots on goal, sends the Bears into the national championships, which begin with Nov. 23’s opening round on campus sites. Rocky will find out on Nov. 18 who its first-round opponent will be.
As of now, it doesn’t matter to the Bears (14-3-1). All that matters is they’re in the national tournament for the second straight year, with hopes of reaching the next level Dec. 2-7 in Birmingham, Ala.
“If we can get to Alabama, obviously that’d be one of the highlights of my college career,” said Cass, a freshman defender from York, England. “And for the seniors as well, it’d be a big part of their career. Hopefully we can go and push on from here, wherever we go.”
The game’s lone goal came when Mikey Wall got the ball to Chris Jermy, whose long cross from the left side sailed across the 18-yard box. As midfielder Ronaldo Goncalves made a move toward the ball, Cass yelled for him to let it go, which Goncalves did. The ball landed on Cass’ forehead and he nailed it past Jamestown keeper Thomas Cook.
“It was a battle, the two teams are similar, play the same style of soccer … very physical game,” Rocky coach Richard Duffy said. “Luckily we were able to get a good goal in the first half from Eddie Cass and hold until the end. It was a good win for the guys and we’re excited about who we get to play next.”
Duffy credited Goncalves, a freshman midfielder from Brazil, as the key to the game for winning a lot of balls and for keeping Jamestown forward Jack Keeling under wraps. In all, the Jimmies had just two shots on goal, even though they pressed forward for much of the second half and had just two defenders on the field at the end.
Rocky keeper Joachim Soderstrom needed to make just two saves, and Rocky’s back line did a good job of clearing away trouble, particularly in the second half.
“Just backing the bus in, really,” Cass said of Rocky’s defensive stand. “They were putting three, four (players) in the box and three, four up top as well. But the lads held together and we just held them out. Courageous defending, really.”
“Rocky, just because they played direct, had more scoring chances and the goal came off a mistake,” said first-year Jamestown coach Tommy Hiehaus, whose team finished the season 11-6-2. “We just didn’t clear a cross and it cost us.”