Oakland got what it expected Thursday night, a 2-0 victory over No. 24 Kentucky. For the Cats, a remarkable season that few could have expected ended too soon, nonetheless.
Second-half goals by Cody Archibald and Gavin Hoy made the difference in the first round of the NCAA Men's Soccer Championship, played in freezing weather at UK's Wendell & Vickie Bell Soccer Complex.
The Wildcats ended the season with a three-game losing streak, falling first to Charlotte in a match to decide the Conference USA regular-season crown, then to South Carolina in the C-USA Tournament.
"As hard as it is to say right now, I think the future is bright," UK Coach Johan Cedergren said of his young squad. "And I will say as firmly as I can that this will not happen again. We are not going to go 0-and-3 in the games that matter.
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"For us, it's time as a staff and as a squad to grow and develop and to learn from this. But we are not sitting here again next year in the NCAA Tournament."
With the win, Oakland (10-6-3) advances to a round-of-32 match Sunday at third-seeded Michigan State, which drew a first-round bye. Oakland beat Michigan State 2-0 on Oct. 22.
"We expected to be here; we weren't just happy to be in the NCAA Tournament," Golden Grizzlies Coach Eric Pogue said. "We expected to compete with Kentucky and give them a game and to be in the second round. We're obviously excited about it, but where we're at with our program, we expect to be in the second round, and we expect to compete for a title, and we expect to advance."
UK and Oakland both were appearing in their sixth NCAA tourney. UK (10-6-4) made the tourney for the second time in three years, while Oakland was in for the first time since 2010.
In a scoreless first half, Oakland outshot UK 5-4, including 3-1 in shots on goal.
Matt Quick had UK's lone shot on goal, which was deflected wide by goalkeeper Wes Mink.
The Golden Grizzlies would finish the match with a 10-6 edge in shots, 5-2 in shots on goal.
The only goal they would need came at the 54:31 mark. John DeLeon took a corner kick, which Cody Archibald headed in at the far post.
"I was surprised we gave away a goal off a corner," said Cedergren, who recalled only one other such score against the Cats this season — by Wright State in the season opener.
"Up until they scored, I thought we had played a fairly efficient game. It wasn't brilliant by any means, but I thought we were in control of the game. ... But then, definitely, the game turned and Oakland deserves to win for their performance in the second half."
Hoy's goal, unassisted, came at the 60:52 mark after a turnover about 35 yards out from the goal. Hoy dribbled through the UK defense all the way to the corner of the 6-yard box, then fired inside the far post.
"Once we got the ball moving in the first half, I think we all realized we can compete and play with this team," Hoy said.
UK was handicapped by the loss of Justin Laird, who suffered an MCL injury on a hard foul in the season finale against Charlotte, and fellow starter Napo Matsoso, who was serving a two-game suspension after drawing a red card in the same game.
"I was just really proud of the guys," Pogue said. "I thought it was a great game. Kentucky's a great team and we knew we were going to have to come with our best effort tonight.
"I thought it was an evenly matched game in the first half, and I think in the second half we came out and really dictated the play. And obviously had some nice finishes."
Oakland 2, Kentucky 0
Goals — OU: Cody Archibald, Gavin Hoy. Goalkeepers — OU: Wes Mink; UK: Callum Irving. Records — Oakland 10-6-3; Kentucky 10-6-3.