By Hamzah Khan
In a pivotal two game series at home this week, Eastern(4-7-1, 1-1-1 OVC) split the matches. Bouncing back from a disappointing overtime loss against Tennessee Tech 2-1, Eastern prevailed over Jacksonville State 1-0. The team climbed out from near the bottom of the Ohio Valley Conference standings. Both Eastern and Tennessee Tech were coming off of disappointing performances. Tech lost 3-1 to conference leader Murray State, while Eastern went to a double-overtime draw against a short-handed Austin Peay.
Eastern dominated proceedings early, maintaining possession for most of the first half. Tech maintained a high defensive line during the entire first half. The Colonels looked to capitalize on this with through balls and lobs over Tech’s back four.
Freshman forward Deja Tennon frequently sliced through Tech’s defense, connecting with the midfield’s service. Tennon’s pace also proved worrisome for Tech until she was subbed later in the first half.
At halftime, both teams were still without a goal, as Eastern often struggled to find the net despite out-shooting Tech 7-3.
Early in the second half, Tech improved its possession of the ball and drove forward. Eastern absorbed much of the pressure before launching numerous counterattacks. Eastern’s quick breaks led to countless goal scoring opportunities, including one hitting off the post. Eastern coach Lindsay Basalyga put Tennon back into the game, hoping to catch Tech off guard on a counter attack.
The Colonels’ persistence was soon rewarded when Tennon latched on to a long ball along the wing and cut inside. She out-ran a Tech defender before calmly tucking the ball under the crossbar to give Eastern the lead.
Tech eagerly sought an equalizer. The team committed players forward and forced Eastern keeper Stephanie Lynch to come out of her box and clear danger.
Minutes later, Eastern had a defensive mix-up allowing Tech forward Jenn Hoffman to steal the ball in Colonel territory. Hoffman was one-on-one with Lynch and placed the ball in the lower corner to tie the game.
Both teams cautiously ended the 90 minutes 1-1, resulting in sudden death overtime. Tech wasted no time and immediately capitalized on an errant pass. Hoffman netted her second goal of the game, depriving Eastern of a win in its first two conference matches. It was the second straight year in which the Colonels lost to Tech in overtime.
“We’re proud to get the win here,” said Tennessee Tech captain Brooke Mayo. “We knew we had to pick it up after they scored.”
Eastern players said Basalyga was left frustrated, as both she and the players expected to win. Rather than criticizing or confronting her team, Basalyga said she remained silent, trusting her players to get the message.
Eastern captain Alex Raich said players understood Basalyga’s feelings and hoped to give her coach a win against Jacksonville State two days later.
Hopes turned to results as Eastern pulled out a 1-0 victory over Jacksonville State.
Eastern took only 25 minutes to open the scoring. Raich tapped in the ball off a corner past Jacksonville keeper Ali Koenig to make it 1-0.
Jacksonville State nearly evened the score when a shot from outside the penalty box hit the crossbar, though Eastern keeper Stephanie Lynch had the area covered. Later, on another shot, Lynch once again went into action, going full stretch to make a fingertip save.
In the second half, Eastern could have easily increased the scoring margin, hitting the top crossbar several times and forcing Koenig to make a few key saves.
Jacksonville State had a late opportunity to tie the match. Jacksonville State forward Amber DeLaney muscled her way toward the goal before being fouled just outside the box.
This rewarded Jacksonville with a free kick. But the shot was well wide of the goal.
Eastern pushed hard for the final three minutes, determined not to concede.
“I trust them. It’s in their hands,” Basalyga said. “We are technically and tactically as good as anyone in the conference.”
Eastern continues its conference schedule this week, traveling to Morehead State on Oct. 9, and then hosting non-conference opponent Francis Marion on Oct. 11.