Tournament Most Valuable Player James Stewart set up the game-winning goal with a perfect outlet pass to freshman forward Adrian Bucksam and anchored a St. Lawrence defense which allowed Rensselaer a total of seven shots and just one on goal as the Saints won their fourth Liberty League tournament championship with a 2-0 victory over the Engineers on Sandy MacAllaster Field Saturday afternoon.
The Saints, unbeaten in their last 16 games, improved to 16-2-2 on the season and secure the Liberty League's automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Championship. RPI finishes its season with a 9-5-5 record. The Saints finished the year as Liberty League regular season and tournament champions, a feat which has never been accomplished in the seven year history of the league. The Saints were Upstate Collegiate Athletic Conference regular season and tournament champions in 2003, the year before the Liberty League was established. The soccer team joined the Saint volleyball team in winning Liberty League championship tournaments on Saturday.
"One of our goals in the pre-season was to win the regular season and then win the tournament," said Saint coach Bob Durocher. "That isn't an easy thing to do in this league, because it is a very good league from top to bottom. RPI played a great game today and had some dangerous opportunities.
"It was important for us to get the win today. This has been a great group to work with. The support from the guys on the bench has been tremendous. The guys not playing train so hard in practice and keep battling. They have bought into our training system and it is paying off for us at the right time of the year," Durocher added.
Engineer goalie Alex Penny did everything he could to extend RPI's season, making 12 saves, several of them spectacular ones, but the Stewart to Bucksam play finally broke the scoring ice and sent the Saints on their way to the title. Stewart took the ball from a RPI attacker midway between the 18-yard box and the midfield line and put a perfect pass in front of the speedy Bucksam, who outraced a pursuing defender and went in alone of Penny, scoring his second of the year and the eventual game winner at the 62:42 mark.
"Adrian has been really coming on over the last several games and played really well today," Durocher commented.
The Saints added a second goal 14:02 later when rookie midfielder Andrew Bednarsky worked a give and go with sophomore midfielder Sam DeMello and ended up in alone on Penny. Bednarsky gave the ball to DeMello near midfield and then worked his way up field, taking DeMello's return pass, beating a defender and working in close before scoring his first collegiate goal.
"It was great to see Bednarsky score his first goal in a big game like this," Durocher said. "He has played so well all year long. He does a lot of stuff that doesn't show in the stats, and played really well with our midfield group of Tyler (McCune), Sam (DeMello) and Nick Lincoln."
St. Lawrence outshot RPI 26-7 and had eight corner kicks to four for the Engineers. The Saints had a 16-4 edge in shots in the second half and Penny came up with nine of his dozen saves in the final 45 minutes of play.
Bednarsky, Bucksam and DeMello all joined Stewart on the all tournament team, which also included Brian Gilloran and goalie Nate Goss-Woliner for the Saints. RPI was represented by Penny, Adam Updegrove and Andrew Tambasco while Union's Nick Haberman and Hamilton's Jesse Arroyave represented the other two teams in the tournament.
The Saints, who are ranked first in the region and eighth in the nation, are likely to receive a home NCAA bid when those bids are announced early in the week.