Redhawks claim OVC title with double-overtime win over Samford

Monday, October 29, 2007
Southeast Missouri State's Vanessa Hart took control of the ball in front of Samford's Lauren Cook.

Southeast soccer team wins the right to host the OVC tournament.

Nothing against Birmingham, Ala., but the Southeast Missouri State women's soccer team wanted desperately to avoid a trip there early next month.

A goal less than two minutes into a second sudden-death overtime period Sunday afternoon assured the Redhawks that if they get on a bus again this year, it will be to play in the NCAA tournament.

Southeast captured a thrilling 1-0 win over Samford in a regular-season finale witnessed by nearly 300 fans at Houck Stadium.

Along with that victory, the Redhawks claimed their third Ohio Valley Conference regular-season title, and first since 2002.

Southeast Missouri State's Megan Matter and Samford's Amber Cress vied for the ball.

"It's awesome," said senior defender Blair Schuppan. "I am so pumped.

"For the [seven] seniors, we finally won the [regular-season] championship. And I did not want to take that long bus trip again. We did it twice last year."

By virtue of winning the OVC regular-season crown, Southeast will host the conference tournament semifinals and finals Nov. 9 and 11. The Redhawks will receive a bye for the first round of the six-team event that begins Nov. 6.

"It's great to be at home for the tournament," senior forward Molli Beard said.

Had Samford either won or tied Sunday's match, the Bulldogs would have claimed their fifth straight OVC regular-season title and hosted the tournament semifinals and finals in Birmingham for the fifth consecutive year.

Southeast Missouri State's Margie Schaeffler followed the ball between Samford's Cassie Appelgate, left, and Heather Birdsell in the first half Sunday at Houck Stadium. (Fred Lynch)

The Redhawks (11-2-2, 8-0-1 OVC) finished conference play with 25 points, based on three points for a win and one point for a tie in league matches.

Samford (13-4, 8-1) wound up in second place with 24 points.

"We knew we had to win. We couldn't afford a tie," Beard said.

For more than 100 minutes, the contest appeared headed for a scoreless draw.

But, early in the second and final 10-minute sudden-death overtime period, the Redhawks finally broke through.

Southeast Missouri State's Alaina Lacopo worked the ball along the sideline against Samford's Caroline Baxter during the first half Sunday at Houck Stadium. (Fred Lynch)

Perhaps fittingly, the winning goal came off the left foot of Beard, whose career has been derailed for several years by injuries.

Senior forward Alaina Lacopo started the play as she made a nice turn toward the right corner and crossed a ball in front of the Samford net.

Freshman forward Ashley Runion missed her first attempt at a header, but stayed with it and headed the ball a few feet to her left, where Beard was stationed.

Beard had initially fallen down when the play started, but got up just in time to boot the ball into an open net as Samford keeper Cayley Winters had come over to try and knock the ball away from Runion.

"I went up to try and head the first ball and I fell," explained Beard, whose goal came 1:23 into the second extra session and set off a celebration among the Redhawks. "Runion skied and kept with it.

"The ball fell right in front of me. The goalie went with Runion, so I knew all I had to do was tap it in."

Said Runion, who leads Southeast with nine goals and recorded her fifth assist: "It was up really high and the goalie went up for it. I just tried to hit it anywhere I could. I knew there would be somebody there."

Beard led Southeast in scoring during her freshman and sophomore seasons, in 2003 and 2004, but she has been hampered since by injuries.

Beard, who was redshirted last year due to an injury, had not scored a goal since 2005 before netting the only tally during Friday's 1-0 senior night win over Jacksonville State in her second start of the season.

She did not start Sunday's match, but was on the field at the outset of the second half and played most of the remainder of the game.

"I'm finally healthy. Or semi-healthy," Beard said.

Said Southeast coach Heather Nelson: "I'm really proud of everybody, and it's great for Molli. Everybody is excited to win a championship and really excited that Molli scored the winning goal because of all she's been through."

Added Schuppan: "We're really happy for Molli. She's been hurt so much and hasn't hardly got to play much, and to score both goals this weekend is great."

The match was fairly even throughout, with both teams having solid runs but not creating many dangerous chances until Southeast -- knowing it could not afford a tie -- began to push late.

Samford had the best scoring opportunity in regulation, when Amber Cress got behind the Southeast defense for a break-away late in the first half. Southeast senior keeper Lindsay Pickering made a dazzling save from close range on Cress.

"That was huge," Nelson said.

Pickering had to make only the one save to notch her OVC-leading seventh shutout of the season, but she came out to nicely play several corner kicks.

Southeast held a 17-12 edge in shots, but Samford dominated the corner kicks 7-1. Winters made eight saves.

"They're a good squad," Nelson said. "I thought our defense did a great job."

The Redhawks, unbeaten in their last 10 matches -- nine wins and a tie -- will have some time off before setting their sights on winning another championship.

Last year the Redhawks captured their first OVC tournament title to earn their first NCAA tournament berth.

That title actually came in Birmingham, as Samford served as tournament host.

So the Redhawks may not have felt uncomfortable having to try and duplicate the feat on Samford's field. But Sunday's win made sure there will not be another long bus trip to Alabama.

"It's going to be great to be at home," Nelson said.

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