Senior forward Jake Keegan netted his ninth goal of the season in overtime to give the Bearcats the win in their conference opener.

Senior forward Jake Keegan proved to be the hero of the Binghamton University men’s soccer team yet again on Saturday evening as his overtime goal handed the Bearcats a 2-1 victory over University of New Hampshire.

The ever reliable No. 11 struck in the sixth minute of the overtime period, bagging his ninth goal of the season to settle a highly competitive and entertaining match in front of a vibrant Bearcats Sports Complex crowd. Keegan now ranks fifth in the nation in both goals per game and points per game, with averages of 0.90 and 2.10, respectively.

“We were pushing all game,” Keegan said. “We defended great today, and [junior back] Robbie [Hughes] served me a great ball and I was just in the right place at the right time again.”

It was the ideal start to the Bearcats’ 2012 America East campaign that the team, and Keegan in particular, wanted.

“It’s great,” Keegan said. “Last year, we started off conference play 0-3. So, obviously, starting off 1-0 means we are right in the thick of things, and we are just going to look to build on it.”

Binghamton head coach Paul Marco believes his team’s performance deserved a win against the tough opponent.

“I think we would have been disappointed if we settled for one point instead of the three,” Marco said. “But UNH is a very good team, well coached and great discipline. They are hard, and [head coach] Rob [Thompson] does a great job organizing the team, and they made life difficult for us. Our attacks are usually more in behind teams, and we didn’t get in behind them that much today. I thought they did a great job, but in the end our guys responded quite well and we ended up getting the goal.”

Binghamton (5-5, 1-0 America East) made a bright start to the game as Keegan headed wide after receiving a cross from the left within the first minute. In the eighth minute, a shot from junior midfielder Tommy Moon was blocked by the left arm of junior Jordan Thomas of UNH in the penalty area, resulting in a spot kick for the Bearcats. BU senior midfielder Adam Whitehead converted the penalty, finding the top right corner to give BU an early lead.

Binghamton sophomore forward Steven Celeste forced a fantastic save from Wildcat goalkeeper Travi Worra as he headed the ball toward goal from a 13th minute throw-in.

The Wildcats (4-4-2, 0-1 AE) equalized in the 25th minute with a goal from junior midfielder Robert Palumbo. As the ball was cleared toward Palumbo just outside the box, he lashed home a high-class dipping volley that nestled in the left corner of the net, giving freshman goalkeeper Stefano Frantellizzi no chance at a save.

UNH finished the half strongly, putting the Bearcats’ defense under constant pressure, and began the second half in the same fashion. The Bearcats thwarted every attack and pushed forward down the stretch in search of a winner.

With nine minutes left in regulation, Binghamton senior captain and back Trey Jasenski found Keegan with a great pass inside the penalty area, but the senior forward dragged it wide of the right post.

In overtime, Whitehead had an opportunity from long range in the third minute. But Worra tipped the shot over the bar. Three minutes later, a cross from Hughes ricocheted off of UNH freshman Jesus Tedula and the ball made its way to Keegan on the edge of the box. Keegan then swept in a neat finish into the bottom left corner.

Marco praised Keegan for his composure and persistence after failing to score on the earlier chance.

“I think he would have rather had the first one,” Marco said. “But that is the great thing about Jake. He just keeps going; he misses but he is still calm and he still wants to get another try.”

Keegan was named America East Player of the Week on Monday for the second time in his career.

Binghamton had a total of 14 shots in the match, five more than the Wildcats, and committed eight fouls. Frantellizzi, who played the full game, made four saves.

Marco said he believes that the team’s winning performance is an indication of its growing potential and stature as a true contender for the conference title.

“We’re not a championship team yet,” Marco said. “But I do think that this team has the potential, and we need to keep growing our potential and close in our performance potential gap. And today I think our performance closed in a little bit. We got better through the match, and that is all we can ask for.”

The Bearcats are set to face University at Albany at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday at the Plumeri Sports Complex.