By Dylan Butler
STORRS, CONN.— After five years of frustration, the St. John’s men’s soccer team finally defeated a Ray Reid-coached University of Connecticut team Sunday and the Red Storm picked the most dramatic way to do so as senior Shalrie Joseph netted the game-winner with 7:48 left in the second half to lift No. 8 St. John’s to a 1-0 win in the Big East championship game in front of 2,553 rabid Huskies fans.
Joseph’s goal clinched the Red Storm’s conference-record sixth tournament crown — the team’s first since 1998 — and although a lock to make the newly expanded 48-team NCAA tournament, the Red Storm received the Big East’s automatic bid with the victory.
A tournament-clinching victory on enemy territory after such a long draught usually brings with it a wild celebration, especially after No. 7 UConn wrapped up the Big East regular season crown with a 2-1 win over St. John’s at Joseph J. Marrone Stadium just 12 days earlier.
But after a brief team pile-on, hugs and a sing-a-long, the Red Storm broke for the locker room. There was no Gatorade shower for head coach Dave Masur, no laps around the field with trophy in hand. Preparation for the NCAA tournament started almost immediately.
“It happened, it’s great and we’re all excited, pumped up and thrilled,” Masur said. “But we have to put it behind us and get ready for the NCAA tournament.”
For Joseph, who was named the Big East Tournament Outstanding Performer after the match, it was his second late, second half game-winning goal in three tournament games.
But when the senior, who has sacrificed his scoring ability to help shore up the Red Storm defense, went down with a mild right ankle sprain in the 74th minute after he and UConn senior midfielder Eric Soares kicked the ball simultaneously, it looked like Joseph’s Big East tournament came to a painful end.
But the native of Grenada, who scored the lone goal in the 70th minute of the Red Storm’s 1-0 quarterfinal win over Boston College, sprung to his feet four minutes later and rushed to the scorer’s table ready to return to the field.
Masur at first hesitated, wanting to make sure Joseph was healthy enough to return. After jogging along the St. John’s bench, Joseph convinced Masur as he returned to the match with 11 minutes to go in regulation.
“I was definitely in a lot of pain, but I knew I could come back,” Joseph said.
Joseph was immediately pushed up front and a little more than four minutes later he put away the game-winner on a scoring chance that was gift-wrapped by Soares, who made a game-altering error.
Under pressure by Pat Lonergan about 35 yards from the UConn goal, Soares tried to pass the ball back to Huskies keeper Bryheem Hancock. Joseph stole the pass, ran between a pair of UConn defenders and sent a low hard shot towards the far post from 22 yards out.
Hancock dived to his right and got a hand on the ball, but couldn’t stop it from rolling into the net as third-seeded St. John’s took the lead in the 84th minute on Joseph’s fifth goal of the year.
“I just wanted to wait for an opportunity when the defense can squeeze up,” Joseph said. “The kid played a terrible pass and I just tried to get the ball in the corner.”
For top-seeded UConn (15-4-2) Soares’ glaring lapse in judgment was just one of several mistakes the defending national champions made, according to head coach Ray Reid.
“I think we picked a bad day to have a bad game,” he said. “Part of it you can attribute to St. John’s but I don’t think we moved the ball. The guys were too emotional, they were more concerned with winning the game than playing the game.”
While Joseph was the player in the spotlight following the game, he was far from the only player to stand out during the match. Sophomore Chris Wingert was spectacular on defense, stopping the Huskies high-flying attack time and again.
As soon as UConn players reached the top of the 18-yard box, Wingert was there to tackle the ball out of harm. On the rare occasion the Huskies had a shot in the box, Wingert blocked it away.
“The defense does a good job game in and game out and we knew what they were going to do,” Wingert said. “Coach, myself and the other in the back wanted to make sure we didn’t dive in, that we just stay patient and wait for help.”
St. John’s 1, Notre Dame 0. Angel Rodriguez scored the lone goal in the 48th minute to lift the Red Storm to a 1-0 win over second-seeded Notre Dame (12-6) Friday in Storrs. Senior midfielder Jeff Matteo, who was named Big East Midfielder of the Year, sent a low cross on a direct kick five yards outside of the box and 12 yards from the goal. Rodriguez followed Joseph on a near post run and tipped the ball past Irish keeper Chris Sawyer through traffic from five yards out to net his seventh goal of the season.
Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.