No. 24 Pitt men’s soccer moves on, win overtime battle against NC State in first round of ACC tournament


TPN File Photo

A soccer ball on Pitt’s Ambrose Urbanic Field.

By Brian Sherry, Staff Writer

Regardless of the sport, playoffs have the ability to bring out the best in athletes. From walk-off home runs, to game-winning touchdowns, the postseason is capable of creating heroes. 

Sophomore midfielder Michael Sullivan became a postseason hero for the No. 24 Pitt soccer program on Wednesday night at Ambrose Urbanic Field. Sullivan scored twice, including the go-ahead goal in overtime for the Panthers in their ACC tournament first round 4-1 victory over NC State.

Sullivan was happy with his team’s performance, crediting his players for performing well with high stakes. 

“It’s ACC time, it’s win or go home,” Sullivan said. “In these games, it’s really important to come up big when the critical moments come. And tonight we did that.”

The Panthers (7-3-5, 3-2-3 ACC) set the tempo early, passing the ball deep into Wolfpack (6-5-4, 2-5-1 ACC) territory. Pitt dominated possession of the ball to start the game, but couldn’t find a scoring opportunity. Pitt junior midfielder Filip Mirkovic fired off the first shot of the game in the seventh minute, but missed the target. 

The Panthers finally capitalized off their controlling offense in the 11th minute. Graduate student defenseman Lucas Rosa connected on a pass to Sullivan, who fired the ball into the top of the net. Sullivan’s goal gave the Panthers an early 1-0 lead. Sullivan praised Rosa for his assist on the goal.

“I didn’t even have to shout for the ball,” Sullivan said. “[Rosa] just knew. He played the ball back, a beautiful [pass] back to me and I just put it in the net.”

Mirkovic broke the Panthers single season assist record on the play with his 11th assist of the season. Mirkovic later tallied his 12th assist, further extending his record. The junior midfielder still puts his team’s success over personal accomplishments.

“I’m not really worried about records,” Mirkovic said. “I’m more worried about how the team’s doing and how we’re winning. That’s the key, records come with it, I’m just playing my job and doing my part and helping my team out the best way I can.”

Pitt nearly scored again just two minutes later off a shot from junior forward Bertin Jacquesson. But Wolfpack sophomore goalie Lucas Hatsios halted the Panther scoring opportunity. 

Despite pressure from Pitt, NC State wouldn’t let the game slip away from them. Junior forward Junior Nare finally recorded a shot for the Wolfpack in the 17th minute, but missed right. The Wolfpack battled back following the missed shot, eventually striking in the 25th minute. Sophomore forward Luke Hille launched a ball into the bottom right corner of the goal, tying the game at 1-1. 

Both teams slowed the tempo following the Wolfpack goal. Pitt eventually found a spark in the 34th minute, firing off two close shots. But the Wolfpack defense came in clutch, blocking both attempts before they reached the goal. Pitt senior midfielder Valentin Noel nearly scored in the 38th minute, but hit the top of the goalpost. 

Neither team could find an answer before the end of the half, as the period ended tied 1-1. But the Panthers dominated the Wolfpack 7-3 in shots

The slow paced tempo continued for much of the second half. Both teams managed a shot within the first 10 minutes of the half, but neither could capitalize. Panther head coach Jay Vidovich was not pleased with the slow tempo of the game.

“We took our foot off the pedal,” Vidovich said. “We slowed down and we didn’t press as much as we should. It allowed NC State to get back into the game. Not just on their goal, but on the sense that they were able to catch their breath and play.”

Pitt found a solid scoring opportunity in the 60th minute, as graduate student midfielder Rodrigo Almeida broke free near the goal to fire off a shot. But the Wolfpack defense once again halted the Panthers’ scoring opportunity, blocking the attempt. The Panthers got the throw in, but an offsides allowed NC State to retain possession. 

The Panthers rushed down field in the 68th minute, passing the ball past defenders and finding a perfect scoring opportunity. But the Panthers hesitated near the net, failing to get a shot off.. The ball rolled out of bounds, giving Hatsios a goal kick.  

The remainder of the second half saw little action from either side and regulation ended with the score still tied 1-1. The game moved into overtime, with a spot in the ACC quarterfinals on the line. 

Pitt quickly put NC State on the defensive in the first OT. First, graduate student midfielder Jackson Walti launched a shot towards the top left corner of the goal, but Hatsios quickly made the save. 

And then, Pitt found their hero. Following a corner kick in the first minute of OT, Sullivan rushed towards the ball, scoring off of a diving header.

The Panthers continued their  strong offensive attack for the remainder of the first OT period. They fired off a few more shots, but couldn’t find the back of the net. Meanwhile, the Wolfpack were lifeless, failing to take a single shot in the first OT period. 

Pitt continued to play on the attack in the second overtime period. Noel cushioned the Panthers’ late lead, scoring completely undefended deep in Wolfpack territory. Walti followed suit, scoring a goal late in the second overtime to give the Panthers a commanding 4-1 lead. 

The Wolfpack failed to make any dent in the Panther lead before the final whistle. With the win, Pitt moves on to play Virginia in the ACC tournament quarterfinals. Pitt and Virginia faced off already in September, with the Cavaliers earning the 3-1 victory. Vidovich said it will be a tough match against their familiar foe.

“We know it’s going to be a tremendous match,” Vidovich said. “Virginia is a tournament team. The coaches have won national championships, they know what they’re doing. And they have a victory on us already.” 

The Panthers take on the Cavaliers in Charlottesville on Nov. 6. Coverage begins at 4 p.m. on ACC Network.