Losses like this don’t help come NCAA tournament selection time. Teams ranked 23rd in the nation seldom lose to opponents that failed to win five games in the previous season.
But that’s what happened to the Tigers (1-2, 0-0) as they fell to unranked and winless Franklin College on the road Wednesday night 1-0.
“[This] most likely will remove the possibility of an at-large bid, but all really depends on what we do going forward from here,” DePauw head coach Brad Hauter said after the loss.
The Tigers were coming into play after an odd weekend that saw them suffer a loss and then gain ground in the official Division III Men’s Soccer Rankings.
That loss came in heart-wrenching fashion, losing 1-0 to Ohio Northern University in double overtime. However, while the Polar Bears were a top ranked team, the Grizzlies were coming into 2014 after a season in which they lost 11 games.
Feeling they were playing in a mismatch, Franklin devoted itself to a stout defensive back line. The Tigers attempted seven first half shots, but Franklin keeper, Cody Chapman, was up to the challenge on the four that went on net.
The breakthrough for the Grizzlies came in the 61st minute. Austin Fundenberger and Antonio Gioe played the odd man rush perfectly, scoring on junior Jake Pezzuto to attain the only goal of the night.
The best chances for the Tigers in the second half came on a headed attempt by senior Andy Morrison and a scrum in front of the net with just about two minutes to play. Off a free kick, the Tigers bounced the ball around inside the Franklin six-yard box, but a save by a defender hugging the post denied DePauw the equalizer.
“We had a half dozen really dangerous attacks where we were either missing on the final pass or in the final run,” Hauter said. “I wasn't pleased with our energy in the box and thought we were too passive there.”
Most likely, the only option for the Tigers now is to win the conference tournament and take the NCAC’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
“We came into the season with the goal to win conference, losing to Franklin doesn’t add any pressure to that goal,” a confident Pezzuto said. “We have plenty of opportunities against opponents in our region to improve our regional ranking.”
In order to get the season back on track, the senior goalkeeper called a team meeting on Thursday night.
“We talked about the direction of the rest of the year and how we’re going to accomplish that,” Pezzuto said.
The Tigers will have to rebound on Saturday afternoon as they conclude their four-game road swing with a trip to Principia College.
Recent history is on the Tigers’ side as they have won 30 of the two school’s 35 meetings. Most recently, the Tigers defeated the Panthers 3-0.
There are some things to keep an eye on as the Tigers make the trip to Elsah Ill. this weekend. Pezzuto’s lingering arm injury is fully healed however, Morrison tweaked his hamstring. Hauter was not sure of the forward’s status for Saturday.
Regardless, every game becomes vital for the Tigers.
“I think each team has its own personality and each has its own feel and creates their own identity and legacy,” Hauter said. “It will be interesting to see how we write the next few chapters.”