HOOVER, Ala. — This maybe wasn't the pain that accompanies a penalty-kick loss at the College Cup.
Yet it stings all the same for a Creighton team that once again came so close to playing for a national championship.
Femi Hollinger-Janzen netted the only goal of the game in the first half Friday night, leading No. 16 seed Indiana to a 1-0 victory against the 12th-seeded Bluejays in the NCAA men's soccer semifinals.
Creighton, which ends the season 17-4-3, was making a second straight trip to the College Cup for the first time in program history. During last year's national semifinals — also played at Regions Park in suburban Birmingham, Ala. — the Bluejays played Charlotte to a 0-0, double-overtime draw, then lost the penalty-kick shootout.
Friday's defeat snapped a 14-game unbeaten streak for the Bluejays, who had gone 12-0-2 since losing at Tulsa on Sept. 25. to reach the final four, Creighton had to go on the road to topple No. 1 Akron and fourth-seeded Connecticut.
But the surging Hoosiers, who also pulled off a pair of road upsets to make it to Alabama, had all the answers on defense to eliminate the only team that made it to Hoover in 2011 and 2012.
“It wasn't meant to be on the day, and a lot of that had to do with Indiana and how strong they were,” said Creighton coach Elmar Bolowich. “Obviously we're disappointed. We wanted one more game and to take it a step further than we did last year.”
Indiana (15-5-3) moves on to play third-seeded Georgetown in the College Cup championship match Sunday. The Hoyas advanced out of Friday's earlier semifinal after tying No. 2 seed Maryland 4-4 in double overtime. Georgetown, making its first final four appearance in program history, won the penalty kick shootout 4-3 after the favored Terps had rallied from a late 4-2 deficit to force OT.
The Hoosiers — a traditional college soccer power back in the final four for the first time since winning it all in 2004 — will be playing for their eighth NCAA title.
“I'd like to congratulate Creighton for an excellent season,” said Indiana coach Todd Yeagley. “They're a fantastic team, and how they arrived at this point — beating some excellent teams on the road — obviously shows that their team had a lot of special players. For our team, this is obviously a really exciting moment. This is a fantastic feeling to be back with an opportunity to win a national championship.”
Indiana controlled the play in the first half, and Bolowich said it was disappointing that it took the Bluejays so long to establish themselves.
Five minutes in, Indiana worked out the first prime scoring chance of the game when Nikita Kotlov intercepted a pass deep in Creighton territory and raced in on keeper Jeff Gal. Kotlov fired a quick shot that Gal was able to scoop up.
Three minutes later, Gal again had to come up big when A.J. Corrado got loose on a quick breakaway.
The Bluejays earned the night's first corner kick at the 21-minute mark, and after Bruno Castro delivered the ball to the top of the box, Jose Gomez got off a thundering shot that never made it through traffic.
But Indiana kept getting the early chances, and the Hoosiers cashed in when a bounding ball off a missed Bluejays clearing attempt went right to Hollinger-Janzen on the right side of the Creighton goal. Gal got a piece of Hollinger-Janzen's point-blank shot, but the ball still angled into the net, and the unassisted goal put Indiana up 1-0 at the 18:23 mark.
“That's all it took for them,” Gal said. “They had their one chance. They had a few other chances, but in the end that's what is going to punish us for losing this game. There's really nothing more.”
On Creighton's second corner kick with 5:30 left in the opening half, Andrew Ribeiro couldn't connect on a good scoring chance after the ball bounced back-and-forth in front of Indiana goalkeeper Luis Soffner.
Indiana almost took a 2-0 lead into the intermission. Following a last-second corner kick, Hollinger-Janzen ripped a shot that went into the net right after time expired. Indiana's players and coaches protested that the goal should've counted, but the officials stuck with their ruling.
Creighton went into the break with a 5-3 lead in shots, though Gal was credited with two saves to Soffner's none.
Hollinger-Janzen again just missed out on a second goal two minutes into the second half when his close-range chance sailed high over an open side of the Bluejays' net.
With 17 minutes to go in regulation, Vincent Keller sent a hard shot wide of the Indiana net during a Bluejays rush. The Hoosiers again missed padding their lead with nine minutes left in the second half when Kotlov clanked a shot off the post, but Creighton clearly had become the aggressor at that point.
Inside of three minutes, with the Bluejays making a desperate push to knot the score, Brendan Hines-Ike whistled a long, dangerous shot at the Hoosiers' goal that required a lunging save by Soffner.
Hines-Ike again blasted a shot with 45 seconds left that tested Soffner, but Indiana was able to move the ball into the Bluejays' zone to run out the clock.
Soffner made his only two saves in the second half as Creighton finished the game with a 10-9 edge in shots.
“I think we had (better) scoring opportunities, especially in the second half,” Bolowich said. “Unfortunately, it took us a half to get into the game. In a championship match, that is not a good sign. We were only down 1-0 at the half, and we've found ourselves in that position before. The game was still in reach for us. In the end, we couldn't get on the board.”