It would have been easy for Brett Parker to feel his Fort Hays State men’s soccer team was a little snake bitten when it came to the Division II national quarterfinals.
After three oh-so-close attempts in previous years, Parker and the Tigers had a fourth chance to make the final four on Saturday, facing Ohio Valley at FHSU Soccer Stadium.
Even without leading scorer Santiago Agudelo, something told Parker beforehand that this would be the time Fort Hays would break through.
“I had a really good feeling,” Parker said.
He was right.
The Tigers advanced to the final four for the first time in the program history — earning their 100th win in the process — with a 2-0 victory over Ohio Valley behind two second-half goals.
Fort Hays, which picked up its 14th straight win, will head to Pittsburgh for the national semifinal on Nov. 29.
“We had been so close three times,” Parker said. “The first time we had a 2-0 lead at halftime. The second time we lost in penalties. Third time we played really, really well against a good Rockhurst team and kind of felt a little unlucky to not get a result.
“This game, not a day goes about that I don’t think about it. To finally get over the hump feels good.”
A couple of unlikely goal scorers paved the way for the Tigers, with midfielders Moises Peralta and Mauricio Etcheverry notching their first goals of the season.
After two crisp passes, Peralta — who missed a scoring opportunity in the first half — put the Tigers on the board, slipping a shot to the back left at the 66:44 mark.
“Going into that, what was going through mind was the first half; I had an opportunity, I didn’t put it away,” Peralta said. “I knew I had to do something big for my family, my team. It went through a very good team play, consecutive passes, that really lead up to a great opportunity to shoot and score. I’m glad I got the opportunity.”
At halftime, Parker’s message to Peralta proved prophetic.
“I told (Peralta) at halftime — I didn’t speak about the miss — I said, 'You’re going to score in the second half,' ” Parker said. “A lot of pressure in that situation. The ball’s coming at a weird angle. He opened up his hips and the keeper was coming out, and he buried it.”
The Tigers (17-2-1) fought off a couple quality looks from Ohio Valley before the Fighting Scots were forced to play the last 4:55 a man down after a red card.
FHSU then sealed it when Etcheverry beat Ohio Valley keeper Jason Leon to make it 2-0 with 1:50 left.
Agudelo, who was injured in Thursday’s regional final win over Northeastern State, was responsible for 26 goals on the season, but Parker said the Tigers have several other capable scorers.
“As a team, we led the country in scoring not (just) because of Santiago,” Parker said. “We still outscore teams in the country by quite a few just with the rest of the guys.
“We have dangerous players everywhere.”
The scoreless first half was relatively even, with scoring chances at a minimum.
“I thought the team was doing really good,” Etcheverry said. “I knew that the goals would come. We had to just keep playing. As Moises said, we’re a family and we got the goal because we all worked together. It started from the back.”
The teams had to battle temperatures in the 20s with piercing winds.
“We haven’t been in weather like this too much this year, but in years previous we have,” Peralta said. “It can wear down on your legs. You get cold, numb feet. It can take a toll.”
FHSU goalkeeper Fernando Pina made three saves to post the shutout.
Ohio Valley, which advanced to the quarterfinals with a 1-0 win over Saginaw Valley State on Thursday, ended its season 18-6-1.
“That’s a very, very good Ohio Valley team that deserved to be here, well organized, well coached, talented,” Parker said. “We’re excited to keep going.”
“It’s really special,” Peralta said of making the final four. “You go through many years with the opportunity and never getting there, and this year we got there. The team is amazing. We’ve had belief in ourselves the whole year.”