An early goal by sophomore defender Lindsey Lee turned out to be difference as the Eastern Michigan University soccer team lost to Western Michigan University 1-0 in the Mid-American Conference Tournament semifinals at Scicluna Field.
Lee scored unassisted in the ninth minute on a rebound directly off of sophomore goalkeeper Megan McCabe after making the initial save.
“Again, those early goals (hurt us again) and have been our (weakness) all season,” EMU head coach Scott Hall said.
“Big games like this where people are fighting up at the end of the game and Western hung in and give them credit (for that).”
Hall noticed some adjustments from the Broncos after playing them on Oct. 31.
“They changed up how they played a little bit,” Hall said.
“They pressured us in the first half and I think (that) we were able to play through it. We were able to make the adjustments in the second half and like I said (before), we were not able to create scoring opportunities. When we did, we were not quite sharp enough and (tried) to look for the perfect opportunity, rather than just tying to get gritty.”
Senior goalkeeper Michelle Watson made all three saves for the Broncos (10-5-5, 7-2-2 MAC) who advance to their third title game in four years.
McCabe made three saves on four shots for the Eagles (12-7-2, 8-2-1 MAC).
Scoring opportunities were few and far between, but the Eagles out-shot the Broncos, 14-10.
Around the 23rd minute, senior co-captain and midfielder Cara Cutaia collided with WMU senior goalkeeper Michelle Watson in the goalie’s box.
As a result, Cutaia was on the ground for several minutes and Watson got up immediately with no apparent effects.
Cutaia managed to walk off on her own power with a back injury and returned to the lineup in the 26th minute, and played through the pain.
“I don’t think (Cara’s injury) helped us much either,” Hall said.
“One of our big leaders was slowed down and that really impacted us. (Cara) gutted it out, but she wasn’t quite the same.”
Towards the end of the first half, junior forward Angela Vultaggio attempted two corner kicks from the right side and both ended up landing on the top of the net.
The momentum shifted in the second half as the Eagles were able to control ball possession, but were not able to produce scoring opportunities.
The Eagles’ final rally came up short as the WMU defense kept EMU from going anywhere towards the net.
Despite the loss, Hall liked the players’ energy on the field.
“Our kids to the end kept fighting,” Hall said. “We had a good season and this is a tough conference. These final four teams are all good and on any given day, anyone can win.”
Prior to the game, six EMU players were named to the All-MAC teams.
Vultaggio was named the MAC Offensive Player of the Year.
Vultaggio, Cutaia, senior forward Stephanie Clarke and junior defender Emily Dzik were named First-Team All-MAC.
Dzik shared Co-Defensive Players of the Year honors with Kent State’s Morgan Mah.
Junior midfielder Marisa Kozikowski was named to the All-MAC Second Team.
Forward/defender Madison Hirsch made the MAC All-Freshman Team.
Also, Hall was named MAC Coach of the Year.
While the Eagles season is likely over, the Broncos advance to play the winner of the match-up between No. 2 Miami University and No. 6 Ball State University Sunday at 1 p.m. at Scicluna Field for the MAC Championship and an automatic berth into the National Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament.
Follow Eugene Evans on Twitter @GenoSportsguy.