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Redhawks' Kraft strikes late
Southeast defeated Jacksonville State 1-0 in the first round.
Casey Kraft has scored her share of goals for Southeast Missouri State this season -- but none bigger than Tuesday night.
Kraft, a freshman forward, connected with just 3:13 remaining in regulation, lifting the Redhawks past Jacksonville State 1-0 in a first-round Ohio Valley Conference tournament game at Houck Stadium.
"I was really glad when I scored," said a smiling Kraft.
She wasn't the only one. Said Southeast coach Heather Nelson, "I think everybody was relieved when Casey's shot went in."
The Redhawks (13-5-1), seeded third in the six-team event, advance to Friday's 10 a.m. semifinal match against second-seeded Eastern Illinois in Charleston, Ill.
Southeast's winning play began when speedy junior Jessi Wuellner beat a JSU defender to the ball on a run down the right sideline.
The ball wound up getting to sophomore Alaina Lacopo, who fed Kraft about 20 yards in front of the goal. She blasted a shot that barely went over the outstretched hands of JSU keeper Amanda Stephens and found the net just under the crossbar.
"It's a great feeling, especially for such a big game," said Kraft, who ranks second on the Redhawks in goals with seven, while Lacopo leads in assists with seven. "Alaina gave me a great pass and I knew I hit it pretty well."
Although Southeast controlled most of the play against the sixth-seeded Gamecocks (8-9-2), the Redhawks didn't have all that many dangerous chances to score.
Nelson thought the Redhawks might have come out a bit tight, although she certainly didn't expect things to be easy.
"Once you get into the tournament, you expect real tight games, maybe even overtime," Nelson said. "I thought we were definitely nervous.
"We didn't play our best game by any means, but if anything this might help us for our next game."
Senior forward Lisa Schweppe, who leads Southeast in goals with nine, scored on a header just six minutes into the contest, but it was waved off by an obvious offsides call.
After that, the dangerous chances were few and far between, although Southeast's defense kept JSU from getting much of anything going.
"I felt good about how we defended," Nelson said. "We really didn't give them any scoring opportunities."
Junior keeper Lindsay Pickering only had to make one save as she recorded her OVC-leading 11th shutout of the season. Earlier Tuesday, Pickering was named the OVC defensive player of the week after recording shutouts on Wednesday and Friday.
Southeast outshot JSU 7-4. Stephens made four saves for the Gamecocks.
Now Southeast will gear up for Friday's semifinal against tournament host Eastern Illinois (8-9-2), which has proven to be the Redhawks' biggest rival since women's soccer became an OVC-sponsored sport in 1999.
Eastern Illinois has won five of the six OVC Tournament titles, including four straight. Two of the championships came over Southeast, 1-0 in 2001 and 3-2 on penalty kicks in 2002.
"We've had some great games with Eastern Illinois over the years," Nelson said. "I don't have to get them wound up. My biggest concern is keeping them relaxed."
Friday's other semifinal will pit top-seeded Samford (14-3-2) against fourth-seeded Murray State (8-10-2), which beat fifth-seeded Austin Peay 3-0 in Tuesday's other opening-round match. Eastern Illinois and Samford received first-round byes.
The title match is set for noon Sunday and will be nationally televised by ESPNU. The champion earns an NCAA tournament berth.