Pioneer booters underdogs with a bite

Marietta College has emerged arguably as the most dangerous men’s soccer team in this week’s Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament.

“We hope to be,” said MC junior defender Brent Huck after the Pioneers (11-8-1) defeated Heidelberg University, 1-0, on Cole Pappas’ golden goal in the second 10-minute overtime at Marietta Field Monday afternoon.

With the victory, underdog Marietta is now hoping to knock off OAC regular-season champion John Carroll University (11-5-2), its next opponent in today’s scheduled 4 p.m. semifinal at Don Shula Stadium. The winner of that match will advance to play in Saturday’s tourney final.

During regular season competition, the Pioneers dropped a 1-0 decision at JCU on Oct. 8.

“I’m so happy,” said Pioneer boss Joe Bergin after Monday’s victory. “We’ve gone onto the second round here, and that’s the first time since 2008. That’s a great accomplishment. We’re excited to be still playing.”

MC is still playing, because it blanked nationally-ranked and previously unbeaten Ohio Northern University, 1-0, in its regular-season finale and then of course the Student Princes, both on its home pitch.

“People are saying that’s the best result this program’s ever had, “said Bergin of the ONU win. “If it’s not, it’s pretty darn close.”

Following that historic triumph, Marietta was able to host a first-round OAC tourney match when The Berg lost its regular-season finale last Saturday.

“Heidelberg got beat 4-1 by Wilmington which gave us that home field advantage,” Bergin said. “Something doesn’t make sense on that one (The Berg’s loss to the Quakers), but I’m happy with that.”

Bergin paused.

“The Wilmington result helped, but that (home field advantage) wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t beat Northern,” the coach continued.

The Pioneer booters naturally were feeling good about themselves, but even with a match at Marietta Field, they knew that the Student Princes would be a handful.

“The last time that we’ve made the playoffs, it’s been against these guys,” Bergin said. “And, it’s been a battle every time, 2-1 two years ago, 2-1 last year in overtime, and 1-0 in overtime this year.

“We carried a little bit of confidence into Monday’s game. They (Student Princes) were just making us grind it out, and we were making them grind it out.”

The Student Princes really weren’t the same team that lost 3-0 to the Pios in Tiffin, or the same squad that got whipped by the Quakers.

“There wasn’t much to separate either team (MC and HU),” Pappas said. “Heidelberg played fantastic. Props to them. But we were lucky enough to come out the victor.”

Yes, the Student Princes probably were unlucky, especially when their shooter cleared the crossbar on an indirect kick in the penalty area in the second half.

“That’s the game of soccer,” said first-year Heidelberg coach Pat Svihlik, also a former MC assistant. “It’s not always fair. It’s a game of chances. We had a couple, and Marietta had a couple — and they found the back of the net.”

The Pioneers are hoping to find more of the same at JCU.

And, while the Blue Streaks won’t exactly be trembling in their soccer shoes, they’d better beware, because peril is lurking ahead.

The Pioneers may not be the tourney favorite, but they are fearless and a team to be reckoned with.

Ron Johnston is a Marietta Times sports writer, and can be reached at (740)373-2121, x534, or