ONLINE EXCLUSIVE STORY BY ADAM ROGAN
The Bulldogs proved why they were favorites in their first round matchup today against the sixth ranked Central Arkansas Bears in the Missouri Valley Conference Championship tournament in Edwardsville, Illinois.
Drake was 9-4-3 in the regular season and 3-1-2 against conference opponents entering the tournament. Central Arkansas, on the other hand, was a dismal 2-15-1 with just one win against an MVC team in 2015.
Junior Ben LeMay got Drake out in front in the 17th minute on a cross from sophomore Gabe Edel. It was a lead that the Bulldogs would not relinquish, nor would they give the Bears many chances to equalize the score in the first half. Drake took twice as many shots as Central Arkansas in the first 45 minutes of play.
Freshman Nic Jaimes gave the Bulldogs an insurance goal in the 58th minute. After receiving a pass from sophomore Steven Enna, Jaimes beat a defender one-on-one and fired a shot into the upper-right corner of the goal to put Drake ahead 2-0.
Newly named head coach Gareth Smith utilized a plethora of subs – 20 different Bulldogs taking to the field throughout the match – in order to keep the team energized and focused in the game’s final minutes. This strategy proved effective as the defense held strong for the remaining 30-plus minutes to secure goalkeeper Darrin MacLeod’s fifth shutout of 2015.
The Bradley Braves await the Bulldogs for the MVC semifinal match. Kickoff is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Friday night. This comes just six days after the two teams faced off in the final match of the regular season. That match ended tied at one after Bradley scored a goal in the 89th minute to keep Drake from earning a first round bye in the conference tournament.
The winner will face either no. 5 Loyola or no. 1 SIUE in the MVC championship. The last time Drake made it that far was in 2009, when they won the conference and advanced to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament.