By Hamzah Khan
The Colonels finished their final conference weekend with splitting results. A disappointing 1-0 loss to Eastern Illinois came before a competitive 1-0 win against Southeast Missouri State.Eastern (5-10-3, 2-3-3 OVC) had to pick up one win this weekend to put them in contention for an OVC conference tournament berth. A few other results also have to swing in the Colonel’s favor to guarantee postseason play.
“We don’t control our destiny,” Eastern’s head coach, Lindsay Basalyga, said. “But our players know it’s do or die time.”
The Colonels entered the game against the Eastern Illinois Panthers (7-6-5, 3-2-2 OVC) with a goal drought spreading four consecutive games. The Colonels routinely outshot teams, but were unable to find a finishing touch in front of the goal.
Eastern’s scoring troubles continued as they out shot the Panthers on attempts 15-3 but failed to score a single goal. Neither side was able to break the deadlock until the Panthers crossed the ball, leading to a goal.
Eastern was unable to find an equalizer in the second half, despite putting four shots on frame.
The result condemned the Colonels to put their postseason hopes in other results. The Southeast Missouri Redhawks (7-6-3, 2-2-3 OVC) would have to lose to Eastern and Murray State to knock out the Colonels and secure their own spot.
Eastern hosted the Redhawks on Senior Day and four graduating seniors, Jessica Goshert, Eva Hollenberg, Lauren Imsande, and Maddy Shumaker, were honored in a pre-match ceremony.
Both teams battled for possession early on, but neither was able to find the net. Eastern keeper Stephanie Lynch was called into action 20 minutes into the match.
Lynch, who leads the OVC in shutouts, denied the Redhawks a sure goal with a double save.
The Colonels opened the second half dominating the territorial tussle. Eastern pressed higher up the pitch to keep the ball in the Redhawks’ own half. The Colonel’s free flowing attack was unable to find any forwards in good scoring positions.
Eastern’s corners also provided a threat at goal. Following the delivery, Goshert found the ball at her feet just beyond the penalty box and took a shot, sending the ball narrowly over the crossbar. Goshert once again imposed herself from a corner, heading the ball just beyond the frame of goal.
The Colonel’s high defensive line left them at risk for a counter attack. With only six minutes left in the match, the Redhawks led a quick break down the field and forced a one-on-one with Lynch. Lynch made a clutch reaction save to keep Eastern’s tournament dreams alive.
With extra time looming, Alex Raich made a determined run into the heart of Southeast Missouri’s defense. She lobbed a ball to teammate Carly Muller who took an ambitious shot from 25 yards out on the right side of the box. The ball was slowly bending away from the Redhawks’ keeper and eventually made its way to the inside of the net.
“It’s the most excited I have ever been for a goal,” said Muller, who also scored against nationally ranked Florida.
Basalyga said she was satisfied with her team’s contributions in this game and over the season, especially from the seniors.
“We played better this season, in large part due to our seniors,” said Basalyga. “I’m extremely proud of how they’ve progressed – they believe in this team.”
With the win, the Colonels must wait until the Redhawks finish their season against Murray State. Eastern are level on points with Southeast Missouri, but are ahead in the standings due to their head-to-head record with the Redhawks. The Redhawks could claim the sixth spot for themselves with just a draw against Murray State.
Basalyga acknowledged the scenario.
“It’s not in our hands,” said Basalyga. “But that’s part of the fun of soccer at this level.