SOCCER: Final test before MAC season ends in 2-1 loss to Butler
Early start for Cardinals dwarfed by allowing late goal in first half
Coming off its two best performances of the season last weekend, Sunday's game against Butler was supposed to be the perfect transition into Mid-American Conference play.
Instead, it turned into a 30-minute meeting of re-evaluation after Ball State (3-3-2) lost its early lead and the game, 2-1, to Butler (5-3-1).
"We talked about how we are a quality team, but we need to raise our game," coach Craig Roberts said. "Just some of the organizational portions we need to do better on. We need to get that squared away as we approach the MAC season."
Early on, Ball State looked primed and ready for conference play to start. Not 10 minutes in, sophomore forward Jasmine Moses took a perfectly placed through-ball from senior midfielder Alyssa Ables and beat the goalkeeper far-post for the first score of the game.
That type of passing is something Ables said the team works on every day in practice. However, it would be the only such build up in Sunday's game - at least for the Cardinals.
Butler controlled the rest of the first half from the midfield position with precision passing and crafty ball skills. So much so, Roberts said he was forced to make some substitutions to counteract the Bulldogs' personnel.
"The system Butler was playing against us kind of overruled us in midfield," Roberts said. "We had to make some adjustments there and it got balanced back up. With that, it reduced the amount of offense and forwards we had."
For nearly 45 minutes, Ball State held off Butler's attacks until a botched clearance attempt fell to Butler freshman midfielder Sophia Maccagnone just outside the box.
Maccagnone took one evasive dribble to her left before ripping a shot through three defenders to beat senior goalkeeper Aubrey Buehler for an equalizer.
It was a backbreaking goal before halftime, but one Ables said didn't completely deflate the Cardinals.
"I don't think it really changed the momentum that much," Ables said. "It was a bit of a shocker, but I don't think it's something we should be dwelling on [during the game] at all."
Whether Ball State forgot the goal or not, it did seem to have an effect on their play.
During the second half, the Cardinals started taking chances, diving and getting out of position on a lot of balls. The Bulldogs quickly capitalized on those mistakes.
In the 50th minute, Butler's Katie Reed, Elise Kotsakis and Claire Milam combined for a give-and-go triangle that left Milam wide-open in the box. Her shot beat Buehler far post again for the second goal of the game.
"I didn't feel that we did well defensively," Roberts said. "That's an unusual [thing] for us. Usually they are very strong performers back there and positioned real well. But they didn't do that today."
Ball State held the shot advantage in the second half, 8-3, and for the game, 15-12, but couldn't beat Butler's goalkeeper Julie Burton on any of its remaining chances.
Buehler, on the other hand, was pulled in favor of sophomore Emma Crenshaw shortly after the second goal.
It wasn't because the Bulldogs scored, however. Roberts said the substitution was because Buehler wasn't being enough of a leader. It is her job to get the defense organized and keep the Cardinals on their lines.
"Aubrey has the experience, and I think she's a great goalkeeper, but I just expect a little more consistency," Roberts said. "All the commanding that is done by the defense starts with the goalkeeper. We were repeating the same mistake, and she has to get on the backline a little bit more. We all believe in her, but that has to be right for next week."
Instead of taking a four-match unbeaten streak into MAC play, Ball State left Sunday's game with only things to learn and reflect on.
For Ables, those lessons are just as important as wins at this point in the season.
"It is just bouncing back," Ables said. "We just need to go at teams and do what we're good at. I think this loss will make us a lot better in the long run."