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November 16, 2012

Niners move on

The Charlotte 49ers ended the UAB Blazer's season Thursday night at Transamerica Field, 3-2. In one of the more high-scoring matches so far in the NCAA Tournament, the Niners held onto the lead for the duration of the match, despite a strong second half by the Blazers.

Charlotte (15-3-3) and UAB (10-8-3) are no strangers to each other. After moving past the Blazers in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year, and a draw being the result of a match between the two earlier this season, they have become familiar foes. Charlotte can expect to see even more of UAB in future seasons, as they are scheduled to join the Blazers in Conference-USA next year.

From the beginning of the match, each squad established an early attacking mentality; both teams' impressive defenses gave for some great, give-and-take, battles out of the midfield. The difference between the two would prove to be set-pieces; in the 6th minute Jennings Rex headed the ball in from a Tyler Gibson corner. While the cross entered the box, a scrum began for the ball; it passed through the struggle and connected with Rex, who put it away for the match's first score.

Donnie Smith, coming back from injury, did not start, but did sub in; Charlotte Head Coach, Kevin Langan said about his impact, "He's a fantastic player, a future professional; he's got an eye for goal, so him being fit is important." Smith, proving his worth shortly after coming off the bench for Owen Darby, assisted the team's second goal in the 28th minute of play. Rex was the recipient once again, on a cross similar to the first score; he sealed-off the defender behind him in a leaping effort, and tapped the ball in for a commanding, 2-0, lead the 49ers would carry into the half.

After the match, Rex spoke on the crosses, "We work really hard on set pieces, obviously coming in we knew UAB was a strong team on set pieces… We found a weakness that we thought we could exploit, and two great balls from Tyler and Donnie let that happen."

UAB came into the second half of play with a revamped game plan that put much more pressure on Charlotte's backline. In the 49th minute, Biko Bradnock-Brennan received a hand-ball violation in the box after attempting to save a would-be goal. The result was a Blazer's penalty kick, that Mladen Lemez had no trouble putting behind 49er keeper, Klay Davis.

The two, evenly matched teams recorded ten shots a piece, and both keepers were deadlocked with three saves each. Every time it seemed UAB had a chance to tie the score, Charlotte answered. Just two minutes after the Lemez score, Will Mayhew initiated a push towards goal in the midfield. Flawless progression of the ball up the pitch from Mahew, to Darby, and on to a streaking Giuseppe Gentile led to the eventual difference in the score.

The Blazers, Diego Navarrete, made things interesting scoring UAB's second goal with a little over five minutes to play, but the 49ers made sure they didn't close the margin any further.

Charlotte leaves home now to play the higher seeds of the tournament, their next matchup being against the No.3 seed, Georgetown. The Hoyas (17-3-1) will be a formidable opponent; their only losses this season coming to in conference rivals who are also in the tournament, No. 1 seed Notre Dame and No. 4 seed Connecticut. Coach Langan mentioned about their opponent for Sunday, "I don't think Georgetown will be too happy either, having to face the national runner-up from last year."

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