Bulls advance in NCAA Tournament

For most of Saturday night, it was looking like a  sour16  for the South Florida men’s soccer team.

A late goal by senior Jordan Seabrook, however, and penalty kick heroics from sophomore keeper Jeff Attinella led the Bulls past UNC Greensboro 1-1 (3-1 on PKs) at the USF soccer stadium in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s amazing,” Seabrook said. “This is now the furthest this program has been in the postseason, and to have a group of guys who care so much is great.”

After 110 minutes — including two overtime periods — the game was deadlocked at one goal apiece. Attinella then stopped 3-of-4 UNCG penalty kicks to send the Bulls into the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

Seniors Joris Claessens and Jason Devenish and sophomore Javed Mohammed all made their kicks for the team. Attinella said it’s a great achievement for the program.

“We have a special team here,” he said. “We’ve been working really hard this entire season for a situation like this.”

USF, however, didn’t make it look easy. It was the visitors who struck first in regulation.

In the 46th minute, sophomore Nirav Kadam broke through the USF defense and received a pass from teammate Tebatso Manyama in the penalty box. Kadam blasted the ball into the back of the net, despite Attinella’s efforts.

USF coach George Kiefer said that for a while, things looked grim.

“Things didn’t go perfectly smooth for us tonight,” he said. “(UNC Greensboro) is a pesky team.”

“Pesky” might be an understatement. The Spartans finished with five wins in the regular season, but won three straight en route to claiming the Southern Conference Championship and received an automatic NCAA Tournament bid. UNCG then upset Duke and No. 9 seed Loyola Maryland in the first two rounds.

It was Seabrook who turned things around late in the game for South Florida.

In the 82nd minute, freshman Felipe Libreros sent a cross into the box, which found junior Zak Boggs. Boggs headed the ball toward the net, but it hit the near post. The ball ricocheted to Seabrook’s foot, and he scored his sixth goal of the season to equalize the game at 1-1.

“I don’t even remember how I got into the box,” Seabrook said. “Our guys did a great job of pressuring their back line, though. Boggs put a good header on target, and all I had to do was send it in.”

Kiefer said he was proud of the way his team responded in a pressure situation.

“The team kept working for each other,” he said. “It really says a lot about the character of the group. Easily, they could have gotten down on themselves, or on their teammates, but they fought through it.”

The Bulls will face No. 1 — and defending national champions — Wake Forest on Saturday in Winston-Salem, N.C. The top-ranked Demon Deacons rolled over Dartmouth 7-0 on Sunday. Seabrook said he’s looking forward to the opportunity.

“If you want to be the best you have to beat the best,” he said. “We welcome that challenge with open arms. We set a goal at the beginning of the season to gain more respect around the country, and the way you do that is beat the top teams in the country.”