MELBOURNE, Fla. - Butler soccer is headed to the final four for the second time in program history after shutting out Darton State (Ga.) 3-0 in pool play the NJCAA Tournament on Wednesday at Eastern Florida State.
Butler will face No. 3 Iowa Central in the semifinal round on Friday at 8 p.m. EST. The Tritons won Pool C with a 2-0 record, winning 4-0 over No. 10 Laramie County (Wyo.) on Monday and 4-1 against No. 6 Lewis & Clark (Ill.) on Wednesday. The Butler-Iowa Central winner will then advance to the NJCAA Championship against the winner of No. 1 Eastern Florida State and No. 7 Monroe College (N.Y.) on Saturday at 7 p.m.
Butler's other trip to the national semifinals came in 2013. That year, the Grizzlies advanced on a playoff after ties against Darton and Owens (Ohio). This year, Butler won both matches in pool play by 3-0 scores against Schoolcraft (Mich.) and Darton.
Fourth-seeded Butler (21-2-0), scored all three of its goals in the second half to eliminate fifth-seeded Darton on Wednesday. The Grizzlies have now won 17 in a row.
Butler's starters did not have their usual energy in the first half and when Grizzly head coach Adam Hunter made substitutions, the team was called offside seven times – including one call that erased a goal. That prompted a fiery halftime speech from Hunter.
"He finally gave it to us (at halftime) and we were like, 'Hey, we need to wake up and go, because this could be the last game and we don't want that to happen," said sophomore back and team captain Baylee Vaughn
Less than eight minutes into the second half, Means came charging down the middle, forcing Darton State goalkeeper Krista Moisio to come out to challenge. Means got the ball to Achey, who found the empty net for a 1-0 lead in the 52nd minute.
The Grizzlies made it 2-0 with just more than 21 minutes to play when Means delivered a perfect cross to Clark in front of the net, who put it home to make it a 2-0 match.
Less than two minutes later, it was Means' turn. Freshman forward Lauren Allan attacked the middle against Darton State defender Danni Maidment and Moisio and after all three players came together, the ball popped free from the keeper and Means drilled it into the empty net.
"We were a lot more relaxed and composed on the ball and got the ball on the ground and tried to connect passes and that resulted in Darton having to chase the ball a little bit more," Hunter said. "We kind of fatigued them because they had to play (Tuesday) and it kind of got to them in the second half, I thought."
Moisio said it was just a matter of Butler being able to take advantage of its chances better than the Cavaliers did.
"I feel like the other team was more aggressive than we were," Moisio said. "We had opportunities to score. They had opportunities to score and they used them. We didn't."
The sixth-seeded Cavaliers finished the season 16-3. It was their fifth consecutive trip to the national tournament.
Butler, also making its fifth consecutive trip, has matched its best performance. The Grizzlies reached the national semifinals in 2013. Now, they have a chance to make school history.
"We've never made it to the finals before and we would love for this to be our year," Vaughn said. "I think it can be."
NOTES: Butler is now 6-4-2 all time in five appearances at the national tournament… This is the first year that Butler has won multiple games in the national tournament since 2011, when Butler went 2-1 and finished fifth... The Grizzlies set the program record for most shutouts in a season, breaking the old record of 17, which had been set in 2011... Freshman goalkeeper Jami Reichenberger breaks the school record for most wins in a season with 21. Kelsi Langley had the record with 20 wins in 2013. Reichenberger is now fifth overall in career wins... Reichenberger also extends her single-season record with 18 shutouts and is third in program history in shutouts, behind only Meredith Stimson (22, 2005-06) and Melanie Nuessen (21, 2010-11).