Four first half goals helped the Eastern Michigan women’s soccer team avenge their 2012 Mid-American Conference tournament defeat by beating the Toledo Rockets 4-3 at a wet Scicluna Field.
Eastern (5-4-1, 2-0-0 MAC) was led by senior co-captain Cara Cutaia and junior forward Bianca Rossi, who each tallied a goal and two assists. Junior midfeilder Martha Stevens scored her third goal of the year, while freshman defender/forward Madison Hirsch scored her first collegiate goal in the victory. In net, sophomore goalkeeper Megan McCabe earned her fifth victory of the year, stopping four of the seven shots she faced.
“This gives us another level that we know we can play on,” EMU head coach Scott Hall said of the Eagles victory. “The good news is we have players who are willing to go forward and take their chances, now we have to do it for 90 minutes. We have to get that complete 90 minute effort from everyone.”
For Toledo (3-7-0, 0-2-0 MAC), senior forward Rachel MacLeod scored her conference leading eighth goal and assisted on senior defender Rio James’s first goal of the year. Freshman forward Brooke Maletic also scored for the Rockets. In net, senior goalkeeper Kelsey Borowitz stopped two of the six shots she faced in the loss.
EMU earned a free kick in the game’s fifth minute. The ensuing cross found Rossi, but her shot nearly missed left post. Rossi was at it again two minutes later, this time with the pass, sending in a looping cross from the left side. The pass found Stevens in the middle and her shot beat Borowitz to give the Eagles a 1-0 lead eight minutes into the match.
Toledo wouldn’t go away quietly, however, as the Rockets upped the tempo after conceding the early goal. The pressure paid off in the 13th minute when MacLeod found some space and hit James with a pass. The UT forward beat a charging McCabe to the loose ball, tying the game 1-1.
The goal seemed to charge the Rockets offense, as the visitors began to dominate the possession and garner some chances. But it was Eastern who was able to make the most of their opportunities and, in the 23rd minute, they regained lead. Rossi carried possession into the Toledo box and dropped a pass off to a streaking Cutaia, who tucked a shot into the bottom right corner, beating a diving Borowitz and pushing the Eagles advantage to 2-1.
“I think we did a better job (than we have been) of connecting in the final third,” Cutaia said about her team’s offensive performance. “It’s a real good win for us against a team that we have a rivalry with, but there is still a lot more of MAC games left.”
EMU dominated the play following the Cutaia goal and picked up some breathing room in the 35th minute. Cutaia found Rossi open on the right flank and the forwards’ ensuing shot found the inside of the left post, putting EMU back up by two goals.
But the breathing room only lasted two minutes, as the Toledo attack earned them back-to-back corner kicks. On the second attempt, junior midfielder Alexis Tice’s looping ball was headed away by the Eastern defense, but ball fell to the feet of Maletic. Her shot beat McCabe, shortening the Rockets deficit to just one.
The game looked to be headed to the half 3-2 in favor of the Eagles, but Cutaia had other ideas. The midfielder beat a defender on the right flank and sent a cross into the Toledo box in the 44th minute. Hirsch got her head onto the end of it and scored, giving EMU a 4-2 lead at the end of the first half.
“Being a freshman, it’s hard to earn your spot, so I feel like this will help me earn mine.” Hirsch said of her game-winning goal. “You never know what kind of playing time your going to get, so you just always have to come prepared.”
Toledo nearly got a goal back just after the second half got underway on a corner kick that fell to an open Tice. The UT midfielder beat McCabe with the shot, but sophomore defenseman Jennifer Bentley was in the right position and blocked the shot before it crossed the goal line, preserving the 4-2 lead.
The Eagles wouldn’t be nearly as fortunate in the 61st minute, when another Toledo corner kick was finished by MacLeod. The senior got a head to the cross sent by junior defender Kirsten Catloth, shrinking the Eastern lead to 4-3.
The offense gave EMU the advantage all day, but it was the defense who stepped up its game in the final 30 minutes, halting any chances the Rockets offense could produce and controlling possession when needed. The Rockets earned another corner kick in the 80th minute, but the chance was cleared away by the Eastern defense and the team held on to the 4-3 victory.
“These games are tough, but that’s how it goes in the MAC,” coach Hall said. “You just have to brush yourself off and look forward to the next tough game.”
The Eagles will hit the road for a pair of MAC conference games, first to Bowling Green, Ohio to take on Bowling Green State University on Friday and than to Mount Pleasant, Mich. to face Central Michigan University on Sunday
Follow Josh Dye on Twitter: @JdyeEMUEcho
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