Nov. 24, 2007
DALLAS - Gonzaga University keeper Vito Higgins made a career-high 14 saves, but it was an SMU penalty kick at 83:45 that ended the Bulldogs (9-7-4) season in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at a cold and soggy Westcott Field Saturday night.
Higgins, whose 0.71 goals-against-average this season ranks second on the Gonzaga career charts, was brilliant in the nets, thwarting one SMU (13-4-2) rush after another. He nearly stopped Bruno Guarda's penalty kick, but the chest-high kick was to the right and just out of the reach of Higgins.
"Vito had a great game. He was outstanding," Gonzaga head coach Einar Thorarinsson said.
Thorarinsson, who took the Bulldogs to the NCAA Tournament for the second time, was non-committal as to whether he agreed with the foul that turned out to the decisive call in the match. Guarda was dribbling in on the right wing inside the 18 when the call was made.
"I was on the other end of the field. The referee may have had a bad angle," Thorarinsson said.
The call took place on the near side at the opposite end of the field from the Bulldog bench.
"We all played well," Higgins said. "It was unfortunate to have a penalty kick. It was an unfortunate ending."
Higgins finishes his career with a school-record 305 career saves and his 1.34 career GAA ranks third in Bulldog history behind fellow Hawaiians Josh Fouts (0.83) and Mike McCarthy (1.16). His 0.71 GAA this season ranks second behind Fouts' 0.68 in 1998.
It was all Higgins in this one as the Mustangs out shot the Bulldogs 21-7 and had 15 shots on goal to three by Gonzaga.
Higgins got tested early and often. Three minutes into the match Dane Saintus broke in off a thru ball and Higgins was up to the task. A minute later it was Saintus with a tip shot that Higgins tapped out of harms way. His most brilliant sequence came seven minutes into the match when Keoka Osorio had a point blank shot that Higgins stopped, Saintus was right in front for the rebound that Higgins got a foot on and Adrian Chevannes corralled that rebound and Higgins got a hand on it to tip it wide to the far post.
The shots were 11-4 for the Mustangs in the opening half and Higgins already had nine of his 14 saves.
The Bulldogs got all three of their shots on goal in the first half, Steve Sandbo having a relatively easy night in goal.
SMU continued to apply pressure in the second half. Higgins tipped a high, hard shot from 24 yards straightaway by Scott Corbin over the cross bar at 52:13, then minutes later got his hands up in front of his face to deny Jeff Harwell on a hard shot from the top of the 6 that was an instinct save.
Gonzaga's best chance in the second half came in the 69th minute when John Palladino had a shot from just inside the 18 deflected wide left. Tye Perdido also angled a shot toward the far top shelf from the left side wing late in the match that sailed high.
The conditions may have had as much of an impact on the match as anything. The temperature was in the low 40's at kickoff and a hard, steady rain fell for much of the match.
"It was a fast paced game," Thorarinsson said. "The conditions were tough. It was a fast field and it took us awhile to adjust. But we adjusted our defense in the first five minutes after we gave them some easy shots. The rain made the field faster, and we're not use to it."
All seven of the Bulldog losses were by 1-0 counts this season, three of them in overtime. Higgins and the Bulldogs allowed more than one goal in just one match this season.
But the Bulldog offense struggled late in the season, Gonzaga going 548:13 without a goal after a 1-0 win over the University of San Francisco Nov. 2. Gonzaga went scoreless in its last five matches following the USF match with just a 0-0 tie against Saint Mary's College to show for their efforts.
The loss brought an end to the careers of 10 Bulldogs seniors - Scott Campbell (Gig Harbor, Wash.), Higgins (Kailua, Hawai'i), George Josten (Idaho Falls, Idaho), Grant Lundberg (Spokane), Luke Miller (Sandpoint, Idaho), Palladino (Spokane), John Reha (Tacoma, Wash.) Daniel Scott (Maui, Hawai'i), Dade Smith (Bozeman, Mont.), and Austin Washington (Spokane).
SMU advances to play at Creighton University Wednesday in the second round.