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Bulls clinch tourney berth

After a loss in overtime to nationally ranked Saint Louis midway through the season, a spot in the Conference USA Tournament seemed distant for the men’s soccer team. Four wins and a tie from their last six conference games, however, and some other results going its way allowed USF to book a conference berth. The Bulls’ unlikely qualification and No. 5 seed was clinched with a 2-1 win over the DePaul Blue Demons on Sunday.

According to USF coach George Kiefer, the loss against Saint Louis was a turning point in the Bulls’ season. The Bulls did not lose a conference game after that match, going 3-0-1 in their last four C-USA matches.

“After the Saint Louis game is where we hit rock bottom,” USF coach George Kiefer said. “The group from that point on just started working together as a group and, as coaches, we took the pressure off of them and lived with what we had and if they made mistakes we just kept going, kept working”It was an approach that worked for the players.

“When we were 1-3-1, it was rough,” goalkeeper Dane Brenner said. “In the conference at 1-3-1, we were almost looking to just kind of save face after that, but then we took it game by game.”

Going into the weekend, the Bulls were still reliant on other results going their way. When news reached the players that Marquette dropped their match against Cincinnati on Saturday, opportunity knocked loudly for the Bulls. If USF could beat No. 7 DePaul, they could clinch the No. 5 spot.

“We looked good (Saturday night),” Brenner said. “Everybody was looking online, so we knew we had to win.”

But after a scoreless first half, it was the Demons who got on the board first. DePaul’s Patrick Vyncke recovered a free kick crossbar deflection and put it in the back of the net in the 55th minute.

With their backs against the wall, USF performed well in the second half, scoring two goals from eight shots. Freshman Drew Helm broke the ice for USF three minutes after the DePaul score when he lined up at the top of the box for a free kick. The kick went past the outstretched fingers of Blue Demons goalkeeper Michael Timlin and into the top of the goal.

“I am very happy with Drew,” Kiefer said “Drew has been in a little bit of a funk, and he really played out of it today.”

Helm appeared to have the go-ahead goal only seconds later when he beat the goalie on a breakaway, but he was called offside.

“I am not so sure he was offside on the second one he put in,” Kiefer said. Keeron Benito scored the game-winning goal from a penalty kick in the 68th minute of play after he had been fouled. Benito’s shot went right while Demons keeper Vyncke guessed left.

For the Bulls, who will open the C-USA tournament against Charlotte on Thursday, Sunday’s win was greeted with relief that their season has not come to an end.

“It just feels good to be able to work so hard for something and be able to continue on with it,” senior C.D. Harris said.

Sophomore stand-out Hunter West, USF’s leading scorer, has skidded to an 11 game goalless streak, but his teammates seem to think he is saving his goals for another occasion.

“Hunter scores when he wants to,” Brenner said. “He’ll score in the big time games for sure.”

Kiefer believes that Hunter’s reputation precedes him and that teams are teaming up on him.

“Hunter is dangerous; he creates a lot of problems for other teams and what’s happening is two or three guys go to him, and he’s getting a lot of assists now, so he is a real threat,” Kiefer said.