CAMDEN, N.J. -- The U.S. Merchant Marines' quest to go deep in the NCAA Division III men's soccer tournament for the second year in a row ended with a 4-2 first-round loss to Rutgers University-Camden on Saturday night.
The Scarlet Raptors (17-2-2) will play Wesleyan (Conn.) on Sunday at 5 p.m. Wesleyan (11-2-3) recorded a 1-0 win over Misericordia University (13-3-4) in the second game of the doubleheader.
Freshman forward Corey Beltran led Rutgers with two goals, one in each half.
"We played an excellent match, but weren't able to do enough to get the victory," Mariners head coach Mike Smolens said. "Coach [associate John] Fitzgerald and I are proud of the way our guys battled back after being down 1-0 and then 3-1 against a talented team from Camden, which is one of the hottest teams in the country.
"We played some of our best soccer of the season, moving the ball very well and creating a number of chances on goal."
It turned into a high-scoring affair, a result that surprised observers because both teams enters the match with back-to-back shutouts.
The game had two distinct halves, a high-scoring opening 45 minutes in which the teams, known for their defense, combined for five goals. They found the back of the net but once in the second half.
Freshman midfielder Joe Auleta lifted the hosts into the lead, firing home a 25-yard bullet past goalkeeper Gary Poulin at 12:47, but MacKenzie equalized at 20:01. MacKenzie ran onto a through ball by junior forward Cody Kessler and slotted the ball past senior goalkeeper Tim VanLiew from the left side for his sixth goal of the season. The goal ended the Raptors' scoreless streak at 444:06.
Sophomore defender Bobby Foster gave the Scarlet Raptors the lead for good at 25:55 as he headed in a Zaiere Putmon feed for a 2-1 lead. Beltran headed in a chip from Chris Edelschein at 28:46 for a two-goal advantage.
"Although we were very dangerous, we couldn't overcome Camden's ability to score off set pieces, as they scored two goals off long throw-ins," Smolens said. "Those goals really hurt us."
The Mariners pulled within a goal as Arestivo pounced on a loose ball in the penalty area and scored at 36:51.
"Even though we fell behind, we had some excellent chances turned away by their goalkeeper and a Hollis Irvine header banged off the crossbar," Smolens said.
But Beltran restored the Scarlet Raptors' two-goal lead at 74:28.
Although we're disappointed with the loss, we're proud of our guys and what they accomplished this season," Smolens said. "Winning the conference and going to our 3rd straight NCAA tournament were terrific, but the most important aspect we feel good about is how well our guys worked every day at training and in matches. Those qualities will certainly serve them very well in the future."
Poulin and VanLiew each made six saves.
Photo: Kyle Arestivo scored the Mariners' second goal to pull them within 3-2. Photo by Shawn Antonelli.