PEORIA, Ill. — Andrew Ribeiro made the most of a second chance Sunday.
After Southern Illinois-Edwardsville goalkeeper John Berner knocked away Ribeiro’s penalty kick, the Creighton senior swooped in and converted the rebound in the 86th minute to give the Bluejays a 2-1 victory in the championship game of the Missouri Valley Conference soccer tournament.
“I give him a lot of credit,” said Ribeiro, the Valley defensive player of the year. “He’s a big guy and he made a nice dive and save. Fortunately, the ball came right back to me and I was able to put it away.”
Ribeiro’s second goal of the season — his first came in a 1-0 double-overtime win against the Cougars in early October — clinched an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament for the Bluejays. Creighton (15-3-2) will learn Monday when it plays next when the NCAA announces pairings and seedings.
The Bluejays will likely be in line for a top 16 seed, a first-round bye and at least one home game.
“And depending on the results of the other championships, we maybe could be fortunate and get more than one home game,” Creighton coach Elmar Bolowich said. “We’ll just have to see.”
In addition to beating the second-seeded Cougars, the Bluejays had to overcome adverse weather conditions: winds gusting to 50 mph and torrential rain in the last four minutes of the match.
“That’s the worst I’ve ever played in,” said Creighton goalkeeper Jeff Gal, who improved to 11-0 with the win. “When the wind was against us in the first half, we really had to be on our toes. As a keeper, you really had to be aware of the flight of the ball and how it hung up in the wind.”
The winds were so strong that it turned a first-half goal kick by Gal into a corner kick. The wind caught Gal’s kick and sent it bouncing back over the end line for a corner.
“Wind is the worst enemy of any soccer team,” Bolowich said. “You can play in the rain but wind really takes away from the game. I’m not making excuses but it really affected our game.
“And, I think SIUE dealt with it better than we did. In the end, you just have to keep trying to make plays.”
The teams played to a scoreless tie in the opening 45 minutes. Bolowich said Creighton did not play conservatively going into the wind in the first half.
“You can’t have that mind-set,” he said.
Still, the Bluejays knew they had to limit the chances they took given the conditions.
“They did a good job of attacking us,” Ribeiro said. “The fact that we didn’t let them score gave us a lift, and we were excited to have the wind in the second half.”
Valley player of the year Jose Gomez gave Creighton a 1-0 lead at 68:39 when he redirected a ball past Berner for his sixth goal of the season. The Cougars tied the match at 79:37 when Jared Tejada’s header got past Gal.
The decisive penalty-kick sequence was set up when Benito Amaral was brought down from behind as he scrambled to catch up to a ball in the box. SIUE’s Sean Baumann appeared to stumble as he tried to keep up with Amaral and pulled down Amaral as he fell.
Bolowich had Ribeiro take the penalty kick because Bruno Castro was out of the game at that point.
“Bruno would have been No. 1 in line had the match gone to a shootout, with Ribs second in line,” Bolowich said. “So we went with Ribs.”
Gomez was named the tournament’s most valuable player and was joined on the all-tournament team by teammates Brent Kallman, Eric Miller and Ribeiro, who switched to a defensive role this season after playing forward for his first three seasons. Afterward, Ribeiro downplayed the significance of his game-winner.
“It makes me feel good but I just look at it as another goal for the team,” he said. “I don’t think it feels any different than any other goal I’ve scored. It doesn’t feel any different than the one I scored earlier in the year against them.”
His coach, though, saw it differently.
“That’s what you want for your seniors,” he said. “You want them to be your leaders, to make a difference, to make an impact. They stepped up today when we needed them.”
SIUE (13-7) ................. 0 1—1
Creighton (15-3-2) ................. 0 2—2
Goals: 1, CU, Gomez (Kallman), 68:39. 2, SIUE, Tejada (Lantz), 79:37. 3, CU, Ribeiro (unassisted), 85:37. Shots: SIUE 15, CU 10. Saves: SIUE, Berner, 4; CU, Gal, 2.