Darton's Jorge Chirinos deals gets roughed up by Westerner Texas defender outside the goalbox during a physical, 3-0 win Wednesday in Albany, advancing the No. 1-seeded Cavs to the national semifinals Friday. (David Mann/Darton State College)
WHO: No. 1-ranked Darton State College men’s soccer team vs. No. 4 Tyler (Texas).
WHAT: NJCAA national tournament, semifinals.
WHEN: 5 p.m. Friday.
LIVE UPDATES: Go to twitter.com/AlbHeraldSports.
WATCH ONLINE: Go to ihigh.com/njcaatv.
ALBANY — Andrew Palumbo and Jowayne Laidley were being spit on, taunted and fouled every which way possible all throughout Wednesday’s game.
Turns out, it takes more than that to stop the Darton men’s soccer team and the Cavs’ two star forwards.
Despite being smothered by Western Texas’ defenders and double-teamed much of the afternoon, Palumbo scored twice and Laidley once to lead the Cavs to a 3-0 win in the final game of pool play in the NJCAA national tournament.
The victory kept the top-seeded Cavs (19-0) undefeated and advanced them to Friday’s semifinals, where they will play No. 4 seed Tyler (Texas) Junior College — a 3-0 winner Wednesday vs. Jefferson (Mo.) College — for a spot in Saturday’s championship game.
The Cavs stayed disciplined against No. 8 Western Texas (11-3), which had two players receive yellow cards and racked up 16 fouls. Palumbo said the opposing defenders not only man-marked him and Laidley, but they hurled insults and over-the-top fouls toward them all game.
“I think this was one of the dirtiest teams. But it’s expected because with the way we possess it, that’s how teams think they can throw us off,” Palumbo said. “But we showed (Wednesday) it doesn’t (throw us off).”
Darton coach Bart Sasnett credited his players for staying poised.
“I am impressed with the way our kids were disciplined and organized and didn’t get caught up in the unruliness or the fouling,” Sasnett said. “They are a disciplined group, and I am almost as pleased with that as I am with the win. This win means everything.”
A national title would mean even more, and the Cavs are now two wins away from the school’s first championship.
They rolled through Monday’s opener with a 3-1 win against No. 16 seed Western Wyoming, which was eliminated from the national tournament with a loss to Western Texas in penalty kicks Tuesday. It was Darton, however, that emerged from Pool A with a pair of dominating performances that leaves it the clear favorite heading into this weekend’s final games.
“It feels amazing, but we have to stay focused on the task at hand and that’s the semifinals,” Palumbo said. “I’m not even thinking about the finals. Whoever we play we know they are going to be good, so we have to come out strong and focused and play our best football.”
The Cavs took control of Wednesday’s game from the onset, controlling the ball as well as they controlled their emotions. They outshot Western Texas, 20-2, and didn’t allow the Westerners a single shot on goal.
Laidely, a sophomore from Orlando, Fla., fought through the Western Texas defense to score the game’s first goal in the 15th minute on an assist from Troy Tucker.
“It was the goal that set the momentum,” said Laidley, who leads the team — along with Palumbo — with 11 goals this season. “We had been working so hard all week, and it felt so good.”
Palumbo had been on a five-game scoreless streak entering Wednesday’s contest, but the sophomore from Fort Meyers, Fla., broke his slump eight minutes into the second half when he took a pass from Jorge Chirinos and slid a shot just inside the post.
He scored again with 59 seconds left in the game on an assist from Alejandro Garcia, a goal that felt extra sweet after working to shed Western Texas’ tight defense the entire game.
“They really found a way around it,” Sasnett said about Palumbo and Laidley being guarded so tightly. “It was hard, but they worked hard to find space. That’s what you have to do when you are man-marked.”
Palumbo, a grad of Bishop Verot Catholic High School, is used to the extra attention.
“I dealt with it in high school and college, especially in big games,” he said. “His whole objective is to throw me off my game and not let me score.”
It didn’t work.
And neither did rattling Darton’s discipline.
“That’s the thing that coach preaches before practice and before every game,” Palumbo said. “He tells us that we can’t lose our heads and that it’s unacceptable to get yellow cards. We have to stay disciplined because we don’t want to let the boss down.”