Pioneers to try and clinch SAC berth Friday at Mars Hill

Pioneers to try and clinch SAC berth Friday at Mars Hill

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- The suddenly high-scoring Tusculum University men's soccer team will look to clinch a berth in the South Atlantic Conference Championship tournament when the Pioneers visit Mars Hill for their only match of the week.

The Pioneers (5-6-2 overall, 4-3-1 SAC) travel to Mars Hill to face the Lions Friday at 7:30 p.m. on the heels of a two-game winning streak. In those two victories, which includes a 6-3 win at Catawba on Oct. 19, the Pioneers have scored 11 goals after scoring just 14 goals in their first 11 contests.

Tusculum is in a four-way tie for fifth place in the SAC standings, joining Anderson and Lincoln Memorial which are both 4-3-1 and Lenoir-Rhyne which is 4-4-1. However, each of those three teams currently owns the season tiebreaker over the Pioneers. All four teams can clinch a SAC tournament berth with one more victory or one loss by Coker in its final two matches.

A hat trick from Henrique Devens led the Pioneers to a 5-2 win over Coker on Sunday in Tusculum's only action of the week. Devens scored in the 21st, 62nd and 77th minutes to become the first Pioneer since Anteneh Lemma in 2009 to record three goals in one game. Devens also had an assist on a goal by Nikola Vujicic in the 83rd minute, making him the first Tusculum player with a hat trick plus an assist in a single game since Bruno Conceicao in 2007.

Vujicic's goal was his fifth straight game with a goal, making him the first Pioneer since Conceicao in 2008 to score in five games in a row. Remarkably, Vujicic has entered as a substitute in each of the five games of his scoring streak.

Edgar Cervantes had a goal and an assist for the Pioneers, who scored twice in 48 seconds in the first half and added three second-half goals for the victory over the Cobras. Sam Gilbert finished with five saves in goal for the Pioneers in the win.

Mars Hill (4-10-1 overall, 0-8-0 SAC) lost 3-0 at Queens on Saturday after earning a 4-1 non-conference win over USC Aiken on Wednesday. The Lions fell to 0-5-0 on the road with the loss to Queens, and were shut out for the sixth time in their eight conference matches.

Joakim Lien is the leading scorer for Mars Hill with four goals and an assist for nine points, followed by Sebastian Bertilsson, Roberto Hadded and Jordan Lennon with two goals apiece. Brennan Whalen has made 11 starts in goal and has a 2.49 goals against average for the Lions, who have yet to record a shutout.

Tusculum is 15-9-4 all-time against Mars Hill, including four wins and two draws in their last six meetings. The Pioneers have not lost at Mars Hill since a SAC Championship quarterfinal loss in 2012.

With his three-goal performance against Coker, Devens has climbed into a tie for third in the SAC in goals with eight and sole possession of third place in points with 21. Devens also has a share of the lead in goals in conference matches with six, and owns the outright lead in points with 16.

Vujicic is tied for sixth in the conference with six goals and is tied for 11th place with 12 points, with his six goals coming on a total of 10 shots on target. Cervantes is now tied for ninth in the SAC with three assists, trailing Devens who is tied for third with his five helpers this year.

Gilbert has started all eight SAC matches for the Pioneers and has a 1.56 goals against average and a .690 save percentage in his league matches.

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