— By David Walsh
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Win a match by three goals and Marshall’s goalkeeper comes to the interview room.
Gabriel Perrotta, the Thundering Herd keeper and transfer from UNCW, got credit for a special shutout Sunday when Marshall blanked California Baptist, 3-0, in the Round of 32 in the NCAA Soccer Tournament in front of 2,959 fans at Hoops Family Field/Veterans Memorial Soccer Complex.
The clean sheet marks a single-season team record of 12, besting the 11 set during the 2020-21 season. And Perrotta has had a hand in 11.5 of those for an individual single-season record. Oliver Semmle totaled 11 in 2020-21.
“You can put my name on that, but it’s a team effort,” Perrotta said. “I don’t like how it feels that it’s only me, because it’s my team, my backline. They make my job easy. I can’t thank them enough.”
Marshall, ranked No. 1 and top seed in the 48-team NCAA Tournament, is 18-2. The Herd will play Stanford on Sunday at 1 p.m. in Huntington. The Cardinals got by Missouri State 3-1 on Sunday.
This is the fourth time in the past five years the Herd’s reached the Round of 16.
Cal Baptist, the WAC Tournament champion, finishes 9-6-5. The Round of 32 is the best showing for the Lancers in program history. They defeated San Diego, 1-1 tie, 3-2 in penalty kicks, in the first round Thursday and then headed east from Riverside, Calif.
Perrotta said the Herd must keep pressing forward. It already has won the regular-season and tournament in the Sun Belt Conference. The league had five of its 10 members make the NCAA field. The ultimate goal is the College Cup scheduled Dec. 8-11 in Louisville. The Herd won the 2020 national title even though the event was held in the spring of 2021 due to Covid-19 and all the precautionary measures that were put into place to battle the pandemic.
“Whatever we’ve done is already done,” Perrotta said. “Go on to the next one.”
Perrotta needed to make one save to get the shutout. In the second half, he put on a green Marshall cap again since he’s looking into the sun.
“Got that from my dad,” Perrotta said. “Use a cap. You’ll see the ball better.”
Matthew Bell, the Herd’s leading scorer and SBC Offensive and Outstanding Player of the Year awards, started the scoring in the 24th minute. Marco Silva sent a pass down the wing to Bell, who tiptoed the back line and fired a shot past Lancers keeper Nolan Premach. The Lancers around the play appeared to freeze thinking the ball had gone over the end line.
“Going to keep the ball in. Matthew’s super quick,” Herd coach Chris Grassie said.
Marshall struck for two goals late in the second half to break the game open. Alexander Adjetey scored in the 74th minute and Pablo Simon in the 84th minute. Simon and Taimu Okiyoshi got assists on Adjetey’s fourth goal of the season. It came on a set piece. Takahiro Fujita got the helper on Simon’s goal, his seventh of the season. Lancers keeper Nolan Premack stopped Fujita’s initial shot, but Simon was there to put the rebound in.
Despite the outcome, Grassie didn’t think this was one of his team’s finer efforts.
“I thought we weren’t at our best today,” Grassie said. “We were a little sloppy with some of the things we didn’t recognize. There’s a lot more to come from this team. I thought there were moments of complete control, but I don’t think overall we took advantage the way we should have.”
Cal Baptist picked up the tempo from about the 60th minute on.
“Some silly giveaways by us,” Grassie said. “Slow to recognize some things. We’ve got a great goalkeeper.”
The tempo didn’t quite match what the Herd felt when it beat Kentucky and West Virginia in the semifinals and finale in the SBC Tournament at Hoops.
“Not playing to the level we should have,” Grassie said in referring to his halftime talk. “Guys were going through the motions. We were too long on the ball. I tried to inspire the guys. This team travels across country. Show them the respect they deserve.”
Cal Baptist had as many as six men deep earlier in an effort to slow the Herd.
“We didn’t adapt to the rhythm,” Grassie said. “We had to be methodical. We’ve got to do enough to inspire the crowd. We had more transition in the second half. When Adjetey comes on, he can cause a lot of problems.”
Marshall is out this week on Thanksgiving break. Grassie said the team would have Thanksgiving dinner Thursday. Players and coaches watched the Missouri State-Stanford match Sunday night. Preparations for the Round of 16 match begin Monday.
“The process is beautiful,” Grassie said. “There are no big wins right now. If we don’t win it all we’ll be disappointed. There are moments to celebrate. Only good teams are left.”