Oaks Clinch First Round Bye Regular Season Title with 2OT Win over #19 Hope International

By: Brian Brownfield

A playoff atmosphere resonated at Wunderlich Field on Saturday afternoon as Menlo College Men’s Soccer squared off against Hope International University. On the line? A first-round bye in the Golden State Athletic Conference playoffs. A Menlo win would also result in the team being crowned co-regular season champions with Westmont College. The loser of this match would have to host a game in the opening round of the tournament next week. It was physical. It was grueling. It was just what you would expect out of a playoff-caliber game. And the Oaks came out on top. Jonny Ensch, one of the eleven seniors being honored in their final regular season game, netted the game winner in with 3:47 left in the second overtime to bring home the victory. Menlo finishes the regular season at 13-4-1 and 7-2-1 in conference play while the Royals end up 11-3-4 and 5-3-2 in GSAC games.

From the beginning of the game, it was clear that both sides knew the importance of this game. The physical intensity of this game was high from the opening pass, but it was Hope International able to channel it into a goal first. Axel Helmertz made contact with Juan Gutierrez inside the box at 12:57 and drew a foul, giving Gutierrez a penalty kick. He was able to sneak it past the Menlo keeper Alex Coates-McDowall to put the Royals up early. This lead stood for almost the rest of the first half but Menlo would not go down without it being tied. Off a loose ball in front of the net, Stephen Levy was able to deposit it into the net for the equalizer. Levy’s third goal of the season came with assists from Helmertz and Alex Avila, and the game was tied at the half.

As physical as the first half was, the second half was even rougher. Both sides committed nine fouls in the second half and two yellow cards were given to Royals players, giving them a total of four in the regulation. Menlo fired off ten shots in the second stanza but could not find a way to sneak past Manuel Madrigal, the goalie for the Royals. He was stellar in the net all afternoon and turned aside several chances that Menlo had. Once the horn sounded and regulation concluded, there had to be some discouragement for the Oaks as they controlled the pace of play all game long, and yet overtime was summoned.

The first overtime frame featured much of the same as the second half: chances, but no goals. Menlo only got one shot during the period, surprising considering the amount of time they possessed the ball. Fouls continued to run high on each side, as there were 36 total after 100 minutes. But once the second overtime commenced, Menlo was determined to finish it off. The Oaks sent the ball deep into their attacking zone where Ensch approached it. So too did Madrigal, and he made contact with the ball, sending it into the far corner of the field. Ensch alertly tracked the ball down and sent it back towards the net before Madrigal could recover. He could not have placed a ball any better is soared to the top corner of the frame and snuck in for the game winner. The Oaks and their fans were in a state of elation. No one could contain their excitement. And how special of a moment for Ensch: his second goal of the season, in his final home game, with his parents on hand to celebrate with an embrace just moments after the game.

The playoff bracket has been determined by the GSAC, and the Oaks will enter the tournament as the #2 seed after earning co-regular season champion rights with Westmont. Menlo will make its GSAC playoff debut on November 10 at 12:00 PM against the highest remaining seed after the first round. #3 Vanguard hosts #6 Biola on November 5, as well as #4 Hope International hosting #5 The Master’s University. Menlo will thus draw the highest seed remaining after those initial games. The championship game will be on November 12 at 4:00 PM. The men’s and women’s soccer playoffs are being hosted by Biola University. As always, complete coverage and results can be found on menloathletics.com.