Behind two goals from senior midfielder Stephanie Clarke, the Eastern Michigan University women’s soccer team advanced to the semifinals in the Mid-American Conference tournament after defeating the Ohio University Bobcats 3-0 in the quarterfinal round at Scicluna Field.
Clarke had a career day for the Eagles (12-6-2, 8-2-1 MAC), scoring two goals in first half, while junior forward Angela Vultaggio continued her stellar season by picking up her team-leading 13th goal of the year, as well as the team-leading eighth assist. Junior defenseman Marisa Kozikowski pitched in with two assists of her own.
“I thought we came out with good intensity, moving the ball well and obviously getting the early goals helped,” EMU head coach Scott Hall said. “I don’t think we did a great job in the second half, and credit to Ohio for pressing, but we had some good individual play today.”
Defensively, EMU sophomore goalkeeper Megan McCabe stopped all six shots she faced, earning her fifth shutout of the season, while her counterpart, OU senior Mattie Liston, stopped six of the eight shots on goal.
Eastern started the game on the attack, sending long passes into the Ohio end and testing the Bobcats’ focus.
In the second minute, EMU nearly grabbed the lead early, when Vultaggio got behind the defense and had a one-on-one with the goalkeeper. But Liston charged and made the save, keeping the game level.
The Eagles continued to pressure and the attack paid off in the seventh minute, when Clarke corralled a pass down the right flank and sent a looping cross toward the Ohio goal. The ball sailed over and caromed off the left goalpost into the net, giving the Eagles the early 1-0 lead.
The play settled in following the Clarke goal, with both teams swapping possessions. OU started to string some passes together in the 20th minute, sending some balls into dangerous areas, but the Eastern defense stayed resilient and stalled the Bobcats attack.
The stout play by the EMU defense allowed the offense some time to regroup and gain some possession in the Ohio third of the field.
In the 33rd minute, Vultaggio carried the ball toward the end line, but cut back and dropped a pass off to an open Clarke on top of the 18-yard box. The senior unleashed a rocket of a shot that beat Liston, scoring her second goal of the contest and giving the Eagles the 2-0 advantage.
“They were letting us turn and dribble at them a bit, especially in the first half, so it was easy to play balls in and attack,” Clarke said. “It feels like we are peaking at the right time, so we just want to keep things rolling.”
Eastern stayed composed in their play for the remainder of the first half, as the Bobcats only managed to get one shot on goal in the last 15 minutes and EMU took a 2-0 lead into the break.
The EMU offense carried the momentum from the first half into second, as the unit owned possession and pressed the Ohio defense.
The two teams swapped possessions for much of the second half, with no team posing any threats toward goal, until the 66th minute, when the Eagles sparked a lethal counterattack that put the game away.
McCabe scooped up a failed Ohio chance and immediately threw it out to Kozikowski. The defender carried into space and launched a long pass to a sprinting Vultaggio, who had beaten her defender and was headed to a one-on-one with Liston.
Once she got the ball on her feet, Vultaggio made a nifty move passing a challenging defender and chipped the ball overtop of a diving Liston, pushing the lead to 3-0.
“I have a really attacking mindset, even though I play defense, so it is always nice to get out of the back and create scoring chances for my team,” Kozikowski said. “I think we are flying pretty high right now, but we need to make sure we are even keel the whole time so we can stay focused on getting the results we want.”
From that point on, coach Hall called upon his defensive unit and midfielders to keep the Ohio attack at bay and the team responded with a valiant effort, highlighted by McCabe making three timely saves.
The Bobcats made one final push to get on the scoreboard, earning two corner kicks in the 89th minute, but both chances were cleared away and the Eagles held on to the shutout, winning 3-0.
“They pressed us most of the game, but I think we did well holding the ball when we needed to, playing wide when we needed to, just a good defensive game overall,” McCabe said. “I think, confidence wise, we are where we need to be, but we tend let up a little bit when we go up, and that is something we need to work on because other teams will come back on you, but overall, we are in a good spot right now.”
Vultaggio now leads all Mid-American Conference players in assists with eight.
The Eagles will host the Western Michigan Broncos in the semifinal round of the Mid-American Conference tournament on Friday, Nov. 8. Start time is still TBD.
Follow Josh Dye on Twitter: @JdyeEMUEcho.