Southeast Missouri State soccer team's season ends in OVC tourney semis

Sunday, November 6, 2011
Southeast Missouri State's Meg Herndon reacts to the team's 2-1 loss to Morehead State during an OVC tournament semifinal Friday at Houck Stadium. (Kristin Eberts)

The Southeast Missouri State soccer team suffered its only Ohio Valley Conference loss of the regular season at Morehead State.

Morehead did it again to the Redhawks on Friday night by an identical 2-1 score. This time the defeat hurt infinitely worse.

The Eagles got a goal with just 52 seconds left to end Southeast's season in the OVC tournament semifinals at Houck Stadium.

Fifth-seeded Morehead advanced to today's 1 p.m. championship game against third-seeded Tennessee-Martin, which routed second-seeded Eastern Kentucky 4-0 in Friday's first semifinal.

Top-seeded Southeast, the OVC regular-season champion and tournament host, finished with a 12-6-1 record.

Southeast Missouri State's Lauren Bozesky, left, and Morehead State's Brittany MacLennan chase the ball during the second half of their OVC tournament semifinal Friday at Houck Stadium. (Kristin Eberts)

"They finished and we didn't," said Southeast senior forward Jessie Crabtree, the OVC player of the year. "But I wouldn't have wanted to go out with any team but SEMO."

The Eagles (10-7-3), who won last year's OVC regular-season and tournament titles, entered 2011 as the conference favorites.

But the Eagles struggled much of the year and needed a late push just to make the six-team league tournament. Now they're on a roll, having won five consecutive games.

"We struggled a bit at the beginning," Morehead coach Warren Lipka said. "We're kind of a middle team, with seven seniors and a bunch of freshmen. I think it took a while to jell."

It also took Morehead a while to jell Friday. Southeast controlled play early and scored midway through the opening half. But the Eagles came on strong after that.

Southeast Missouri State's Shona Goodwin, Ashton Aubuchon and Meg Herndon, from left, react to the team's 2-1 loss to Morehead State during an OVC Tournament game on Friday, Nov. 4, 2011, at Houck Stadium in Cape Girardeau. (Kristin Eberts)

"We were letting them do what they needed to do," Lipka said. "The second half we decided to step it up."

The Eagles scored the tying goal early in the final period and kept up the pressure. They posted the winner less than a minute before the squads would have gone to sudden-death overtime.

A throw-in by senior midfielder Brittany MacLennan near the 18-yard box was redirected by senior midfielder Brittany Kiracofe.

The ball came right to freshman midfielder Paige Weber in front. She drilled a shot from about 12 yards away through traffic that found the left corner past Southeast sophomore keeper Ashton Aubuchon.

"I couldn't believe it. I was in shock," Weber said about her second collegiate goal, which is by far her biggest.

Southeast Missouri State's Jessie Crabtree celebrates after scoring a goal during the first half Friday.

When the final horn sounded, Southeast players slumped to the field almost in disbelief as Morehead players celebrated.

"I think we came out strong and it went from there," said Southeast forward Erin Shulman, the OVC freshman of the year who missed the Oct. 7 loss at Morehead with an ankle injury. "We should have played more consistent."

Southeast had the better chances early and broke through with 24:09 left in the first half.

Senior forward Lauren Bozesky made a great individual effort in the left corner, beating a defender and lofting a perfect cross that Crabtree headed in for her ninth goal of the season.

"She [Bozesky] always serves in a really nice ball," said Crabtree, who finished tied for the team lead in goals with Shulman while pacing the Redhawks with 22 points.

Aubuchon and Morehead senior keeper Katie Blevins both made strong saves in the last 10 minutes of the half. The Redhawks led 1-0 at the break.

Morehead tied things just less than 11 minutes into the final period when a shot from nearly 40 yards out by senior forward Jillian Birchmeier beat a diving Aubuchon to her right. It was Birchmeier's fifth goal of the year.

Aubuchon preserved the deadlock with less than eight minutes left when she made a diving deflection on a 30-yard blast. That set the stage for Morehead's late goal.

"I felt we played our style of game in the first 30 minutes, a little bit more possession," Southeast coach Heather Nelson said. "They played better the last 15 minutes of the half. The second half both teams were very determined. It became a play the long ball and knock it down game, and Morehead is very good at that.

"They have experience on their side, being in this situation before. But I had total confidence in our team."

The Eagles outshot Southeast 13-11, while the Redhawks had an 8-5 edge in corner kicks. Aubuchon was credited with five saves and Blevins made four saves.

"My hat's off to SEMO. They had a great year," Lipka said.

That was the message Nelson had for her players following the loss.

"The season as a whole, the team has been amazing. For me, it's been an incredible journey," Nelson said. "The hardest thing for me is to think that's the last competitive game for our six seniors.

"But I think they've left the program in great shape. I just thanked them for everything they've done."

Shulman said she hurt for the seniors but believes the Redhawks will make a run at another OVC title in 2012.

"I'm very much disappointed for the seniors. I can't imagine how they feel right now," she said. "We're losing a lot of talented players, but we've got a really good underclass team coming back. I think we're going to be really good next year."

UTM 4, EKU 0

The Skyhawks (13-6-2) scored three goals in the first 17 minutes and rolled past the Colonels (7-10-3).

Sophomore midfielder Mary Thompson had her first two goals of the season and added an assist.

"Unbelievable," UTM coach Phil McNamara said. "I'm delighted for the players. They worked extremely hard. They were focused.

"The start was remarkable. We have struggled all year to score goals early in the game. We talked about trying to score goals early tonight. That's what we did."

UTM advanced to the tournament final for just the second time. The Skyhawks lost to Morehead 1-0 for the 2008 title.

Today's winner earns the OVC's automatic NCAA tournament berth.

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