Photo credit - IU Athletics

IU men’s soccer knocks off Pitt to advance to national championship game

Indiana men’s soccer is one win away from a ninth national championship.

The 13th-seeded Hoosiers took care of business Friday night in the College Cup semifinals, defeating Pittsburgh 2-0 at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C. IU advances to take on No. 3 Syracuse in the national championship game on Monday at 6 p.m.

This was IU’s 22nd trip to the College Cup, and its fourth appearance in the last six years. Monday will be Indiana’s 17th appearance in the title game.

“We’re very excited,” IU head coach Todd Yeagley said. “It’s always special to have an opportunity to play in the championship game. This team, it’s been one heck of a journey this year, to evolve as we have and to be playing, I feel, our best soccer of the year, doing all the little details that are required to be championship-level. And now we’re 90 minutes away from forever leaving their mark.”

IU opened the scoring in the 14th minute, when senior forward Herbert Endeley was taken down in the box by a Pitt defender and the referee awarded a penalty. Senior forward Ryan Wittenbrink capitalized on the opportunity. Pitt goalkeeper Joe Van Der Sar saved the penalty kick but left a rebound available, and Wittenbrink followed his shot in and converted the second chance.

The Hoosiers doubled their lead with 17 seconds left until halftime. Endeley attempted a shot from the left side of the box, and it deflected off a Pitt defender. Sophomore forward Tommy Mihalic recovered the ball before it went out of bounds, and then fired a shot from an extremely difficult angle on the right side of the goal. Pitt’s defense seemed to expect a pass back into the middle and not a shot, which created just enough space for the shot to get through on goal.

“That goal felt good,” Mihalic said. “Once Herb shot that, I knew it’d either get blocked or the goalie would save (it). We always talk about being at the ball at the right time after a rebound. It kind of deflected right to the side of the goal. And I worked to get there, and I knew I’d catch the goalie off guard, and I did.”

The rest of the way, Indiana did what it does best: defending. IU wasn’t completely parking the bus, but the Hoosiers were comfortable in possession from the back, and played methodically. They created a few more chances, but was content to just see the game out with a 2-0 lead.

Junior goalkeeper JT Harms came up in some clutch moments to secure the victory. The Duke transfer made three saves, and all were critical. None were simple. He made a diving stop to his left on a Panthers corner kick in the 59th minute, and that moment was set up by an important block he made on a through ball that nearly saw Pitt get in on goal.

Harms outdid himself in the 74th minute, sprawling to his left again to prevent a good Pitt header from cutting into IU’s lead.

Harms and the Hoosiers have yet to allow a goal in the NCAA Tournament. His strong play — along with IU’s defense as a whole — has radiated confidence throughout the entire team.

“We have all 11 guys defend and attack, which I think makes us different and definitely makes us harder to score against,” Wittenbrink said. “JT’s been awesome, he stepped up to the plate, making unbelievable saves. Our whole team has all the confidence in him, and our back line is playing really solid.”

This will be IU’s second title game appearance in the last three seasons. The Hoosiers fell to Marshall, 1-0, in extra time in spring 2021 (the 2020 season). IU also lost in extra time in 2017, a 1-0 defeat against Stanford. The program last lifted the trophy in 2012.