Kansas City, Mo.-mentum

Tom Loftus Sports editor

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Charlie Bales did a few spontaneous handsprings after scoring the go-ahead goal for Western Illinois on Sunday afternoon in the championship game of the Summit League tournament.

A few minutes later, his Leatherneck teammates joined him in springing up and down on the across the Durwood Soccer Stadium turf, hugging and jumping and shouting, the wild celebration of champions who know their season is not over yet.

Bales – a 5-foot-8, 160-pound sophomore who was named the Summit League Defensive Player of the Year last week – drilled a low shot past Oral Roberts’ goalkeeper Nick Petolick with 13:07 remaining in regulation time. The penalty kick, coming after Bales was pulled down in the box by an Oral Roberts defender, held up as the winning goal in top-seeded Western’s 2-1 victory over the third-seeded Golden Eagles.

The tournament was hosted by the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

With the victory, Western (13-6-1) – which also won the Summit League regular-season crown – earned an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.

The Leathernecks will find out who they will be playing in the opening round of the NCAA College Cup – as well as the site and date of their first match – when the bracket is announced at 3:30 p.m. today on NCAA.com.

“It was an up and down game, the emotions were swinging, but I’m smiling right now,” said Leathernecks head coach Eric Johnson. “We are really happy to be able to represent the Summit League and have the opportunity to be one of the final 48 teams.

“The team is ecstatic, it was one of the goals we set, and now we need to turn our mindset to our next goal, and that’s to get our first-ever win in the NCAA tournament.”

The Leathernecks fell behind midway through the first half on Sunday when Paul Oliver was able to find the back of the net to give the Golden Eagles (7-11-2) a 1-0 lead. Oral Roberts dominated the first half, outshooting the Leathernecks 6-4.

With the second half just 10 minutes old, Petolick knocked the ball into his own net for a Leatherneck score on an “own goal,” tying the game at 1-1.

Western then turned up the heat, controlling possession for the majority of the second half. After several promising scoring chances, including strong shots by Mario Alvarez, Bales converted the game-winner.

“Today’s match was the opposite of how our match against Oakland went on Friday,” Johnson said, referring to Western’s tournament-opening 1-0 victory over the Golden Grizzlies. “We started the game really slow and didn’t have a very good first half. We made a bad decision on their goal and I think we lost our composer a little bit. Then a tremendous effort by our team in the second half, we really just took over the game.

“Our pressure forced them into making a mistake that tied things up, then we really turned up the pressure, got behind them and got the penalty kick. (Charlie) Bales put all the pressure on his shoulders and made it.”

Senior goalkeeper Andy Ryan made 4 saves for Western.

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