Call it fate, call it divine providence, call it luck, call it a chance of physics, call it whatever you want, but it worked in favor of Marquette midfielder Luka Prpa on Saturday night at Valley Fields. The junior scored his third and fourth goals of the season in somewhat odd fashion to lead MU to a come from behind 2-1 victory over Xavier. With the win, Marquette is now 5-7-1 overall on the season, but 3-2-1 in Big East play and currently alone in in fourth place in the table with 10 points. Xavier falls out of a tie for fourth with Marquette and St. John’s, and with just seven points, the Musketeers are now holding the sixth and final conference tournament berth.
In a match that was obviously critical for both sides with just four matches left on the league slate, Xavier took the early advantage as Simen Hestnes popped home his fourth goal of the year against Division 1 opponents in the 7th minute. Samson Sergi had run behind the Marquette back line to chase down a chip pass and his cross to Hestnes was near perfect for the volley past Marquette keeper Luis Barraza.
1-0 would be the score at halftime as the two sides finished even on shots, 4-4, and Xavier’s Colin Hanley made one save to keep his team in the lead.
Marquette didn’t come out of the locker room with a new look, but they did come out with a new mindset. The Golden Eagles had five of the first six shots of the second half before head coach Louis Bennett subbed Diego Nunez onto the pitch up top. Marquette’s domination of the control of play continued until this free kick:
Originally credited to Patrick Seagrist for the clean up job that put it in the net for sure, that goal was eventually officially credited to Prpa, as review of the video showed that the ball had crossed the goal line after deflecting down off the crossbar. Shout out to the 21st century and the Big East Digital Network, and shoutout for Seagrist for being Johnny-on-the-spot to guarantee that the referee ruled a goal had been scored on the field.
That equalizer came in the 68th minute, but Prpa really brought a smile to faces of the Marquette patrons in the stands when he stayed with the ball and put enough on a heater to allow it to bound into the net after Hanley made the initial stop in the 77th minute.
It wasn’t just that the goal put the Golden Eagles ahead for the first time on the night, it meant that those of us in attendance might be able to dodge sticking it out in the near-freezing temperatures for overtime.
Slowly but surely, Marquette kept throwing the ball into the deep corners to burn the clock further and further down, and outside of a header in the 85th minute that went wide, Xavier never brought a serious challenge to level the match out again.
Marquette finished with an 11-3 advantage on shots in the second half, so whatever tactics or inspiration Bennett gave to his troops at halftime worked to near-perfection. Barraza made one save in the second half, coming in the 54th minute, to limit the Musketeers to just the lone goal and push the Golden Eagles to the three points due them.
There are still three matches left to go in the regular season, and while I’m not holding a lot of hope for a win in their next match (more on that in a second), things are shaping up well for MU to return to the Big East tournament this season. No one in the league is eliminated quite yet, but with a four point lead on current “first team out” Butler, Marquette is in the driver’s seat the rest of the way.
Up Next: Yeah, so about that next match. MU will be in Omaha on Wednesday night to tangle with #8 Creighton Bluejays. The Bluejays are 9-3-2 on the season, but 5-0-1 in Big East play after suffering their first non-victory on Saturday night. Providence pushed them to a 0-0 tie at home, so given that the Friars needed a goal with less than 20 seconds left to beat MU 1-0, perhaps the Golden Eagles will match up favorably with the Jays as well. Creighton maintains a three point lead on first place in the conference, holding 16 points against Georgetown’s 13.