EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Behind impressive goals from Jimmy Fiscus and Giuseppe Barone, fourth-seeded and No. 15 ranked Michigan State men's soccer knocked off fifth-seeded Penn State, 2-1, in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament Sunday afternoon at a sunbathed DeMartin Stadium.
"We are excited and just really proud of our guys. I thought it had an NCAA tournament type feel when seasons are on the line and you got to give our guys a lot of credit. We asked them to play 90 minutes and I thought they played a full 90 and that definitely created more chances," MSU head coach Damon Rensing said. "We stayed patient and we scored a goal and then gave up a point. You have to give their kid credit on the goal. The second half, the ball was not falling our way, but we just kept going and chipping away and we got that great goal by Fiscus and I thought we did a really good job sealing the win."
Sunday was the first-ever Big Ten Tournament game played at DeMartin and the spirited crowd was treated to a great battle between the Spartans and Nittany Lions. With the victory, MSU improved to 13-4-1 on the season, while PSU leveled its record at 8-8-2. The win helped the Spartans avenge a 2-1 regular-season loss at Penn State, as well as a 2-1 OT loss to the Nittany Lions in last season's B1G Tournament. MSU trimmed PSU's lead in the all-time series to 22-14-2 with Sunday's win, in addition to the Nittany Lions' 8-6-2 advantage at DeMartin Stadium.
"That was one of the things that we talked about early -- how they ended our season last year," Fiscus said. "We felt that they took a win from us over at their place earlier this year, but we weren't all healthy and so it feels good to get back at them, but they're a great team and they deserve better than what they got."
Barone scored the Spartans first goal in the 19th minute before Penn state tied the score late in the first half. Fiscus netted his first goal of the season with a diving header in the 75th minute that was the game-winner.
"It was an amazing feeling. I've been wanting that for a while. I've been asking for it all year. Even at practice yesterday I kept hitting the ball and it kept missing the net and getting so close, so that makes it even sweeter to score that goal and put us up 2-1," an excited Fiscus said after the match. "My eyes got really wide, honestly. Sierakowski made a great hit and the keeper made a great save off the post and it just landed perfectly for me. I couldn't have asked for a better placement and I didn't trust my feet to score that goal, so naturally I dove for that, but everything really just worked out in my favor there."
The victory for MSU on Sunday kept the Spartans unbeaten at DeMartin this season, improving to 9-0-1 and the most-ever home wins in school history, topping the previous mark of 8-2-0 in 2010. It is also the first time since 1975 that the Spartans went undefeated at home when they were 5-0-0.
With Sunday's win, the fourth-seeded Spartans advance to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals at Grand Park in Westerfield, Indiana on Friday, Nov. 11. MSU will take on top-seeded Maryland, who knocked off eighth-seeded Michigan, 3-2 in 2OT.
Michigan State controlled action early, earning three corner kicks in the first nine minutes of the match, but the Penn State defense held steady. The Spartans broke through the Nittany Lion defense in the 19th minute when sophomore forward Ryan Sierakowski fired a shot that was initially saved by PSU keeper Evan Finney. The rebound came right back to Sierakowksi, and after a scrum in the box he dished it back to freshman forward Giuseppe Barone, who unleashed a firecracker from about 25-yards out at the top of the box and beat Finney inside the left post and into the net for a 1-0 Spartan lead.
The visitors from Penn State countered with pressure of their own, and continued that pressure. A foul on the Spartans awarded the Nittany Lions a free kick in the 41st minute, also from roughly 25-yards out at the top of the box, nearly the same spot at Barone's goal, just on the opposite end of the field. PSU's Connor Maloney took the kick and bent a shot over and around the MSU wall and past Spartan junior goalkeeper Jimmy Hague to level the score at 1-1, which remained the score until halftime.
Michigan State opened second-half action with a vengeance, with Sierakowski firing a shot that was just wide of the left post less than three minutes into play. In the 65th minute, Sierakowski dribbled around a PSU defender and fired a close-range shot from the right side, but it was turned away by Finney and gave the Spartans the first of back-t0-back corners to continue the pressure in the PSU box. However, the Nittany Lions eventually cleared it away, keeping the score knotted at 1-all.
Less than 10 minutes later, Sierakowski again dictated pace for the Spartans after a corner and the sophomore standout launched a laser that Finney dove and deflected, but the ball bounced off the post and right towards Fiscus who dove and headed the ball into the net, sparking a wild celebration and gave the Spartans a 2-1 lead in the 75th minute.
"I thought Sierakowski did a really good job of keeping it in and he took a very good shot. Their keeper made a great save and was great all day today. Jimmy was right there and if it was with his foot, I don't know if he would have been able to put it in, but he is much better with his head. That was probably the difference for him," Rensing said.
The Nittany Lions countered with pressure immediately after the goal, but Aymar Sigue's header was wide. From there on out, the Spartan defense tightened the screws and didn't yield another Nittany Lion shot.
"I think we were a little iffy with the restart goal that they had, so I think that that just drove us to defend harder and put our lives on the line," Fiscus said. "We didn't want to let up any more goals. That was a tough goal they scored on us, but I think with the back line responding and some of the midfielders, they just wanted to get everything out."
MSU finished with a 13-4 shots advantage, with the PSU goal being the visitors' only shot on goal, as Hague didn't have to make any saves, just denying a couple crosses, while Finney finished with five saves.
The Spartans' semifinal match on Friday afternoon will be televised on the Big Ten Network and streamed on BTN2Go.