Ball State soccer will look to keep building on its recent momentum as it begins a three-game road trip with a visit to Buffalo Thursday.

Ball State is coming off a 1-0 win Sunday against Central Michigan in its final home game of the regular season. The near 20 miles per hour wind blowing through Briner Sports Complex led to a tough day passing the ball through the air, making sophomore midfielder Peighton Cook’s first collegiate goal off a Paula Guerrero corner kick in the second half a critical play.

“It was a definitely going to be a game of two halves, with the wind against us in the first half it was always going to be an influential factor,” head coach Craig Roberts said. “I felt that we weathered it well, in the second half we knew we’d have the advantage of that wind so we did really well finishing.”

MAC Division Standings

East Division

Kent State (11-4-1, 7-1 MAC)

Bowling Green (5-3, 10-5 MAC)

Ohio (7-8-1, 4-3-1 MAC)

Buffalo (6-7-2, 4-3-1 MAC)

Miami (2-12-1, 2-5-1 MAC)

Akron (1-13-2, 0-7-1 MAC)

West Division

Ball State (8-6-2, 6-1-1 MAC)

Northern Illinois (8-6-1, 5-3 MAC)

Toledo (7-6-3, 4-2-2 MAC)

Western Michigan (8-6-1, 3-4-1 MAC)

Eastern Michigan (5-11-1, 2-6 MAC)

Central Michigan (6-7-3, 1-5-2 MAC)

Ball State (8-6-2, 6-1-1 MAC) currently sits atop the Mid-American Conference West Division, but is second in the overall MAC standings behind Kent State (11-4-1, 7-1 MAC), winners of five consecutive games. Ball State sits two points behind Kent State for the overall MAC lead, needing a win and a Kent State draw or loss to regain possession of first place.

The Cardinals showed off their defensive strength in Sunday’s win, holding the Chippewa offense to just four shots on the afternoon. Chippewa striker Lexi Pelafas, the MAC’s leading scorer and shot-taker, didn’t register a shot Sunday as the Cardinals played suffocating defense, posting their fourth shutout in five games.

“They’re communicating a lot better, this is a new back line so as they’ve gone through the season they’re positioning better off each other,” Roberts said. “They’re reading each other a lot more naturally than they were at the start of the season. When you start anything new it takes time to perform at the highest level, and I think they’re starting to mesh at the right time and become a wall that’s hard to break down.”

Buffalo (6-7-2, 4-3-1 MAC) is also coming off a 1-0 win, defeating Toledo on the road Sunday. Junior forward Carissima Cutrona scored the game’s only goal in the 59th minute to seal the win for the Bulls.

Cutrona leads the Bulls in scoring with six goals, and is tied for the team lead in assists with four. Senior midfielder Julia Benati trails Cutrona for the team lead by one goal, having five to accompany her three assists.

Buffalo has had its share of offensive success this season. Led by Cutrona and Benati, the Bulls rank third in the MAC in scoring, averaging 1.4 goals per game.

The Cardinals rely more on defense for their success, but aren’t far behind the Bulls in scoring. Ball State is tied with Toledo for sixth in the MAC, holding a 1.31 goals per game average.

“I still think we can be more clinical in the last third,” Roberts said. “Defensively, I think we’ve improved, but I think we still need to finish chances that we get in the box. We’ve scored off set pieces, but we want to make sure we’re scoring in the run of play also.”

Ball State is led in scoring by midfielder Julia Elvbo and forward Sam Kambol, a pair of sophomores, with four goals each. The Cardinals have relied on their depth and balance for the bulk of their offensive production, as nine different players have scored at least one goal this season. The Bulls come into Thursday’s game with some depth of their own. Nine players have also scored for them.

Both teams have displayed solid passing ability this season. Buffalo is tied for third with Northern Illinois with 1.4 assists per game, while Ball State is not far behind, ranking fifth in the MAC with 1.38. Ball State is led in assists by senior midfielder Allison Abbe, who ranks fifth in the MAC with five assists on the season. 

The assist category is another that speaks volumes about the depth Ball State possesses, as 12 different players have been credited with an assist on the year. Buffalo isn’t far behind in that regard, as eleven players have been awarded at least one assist this season.

Ball State should have the chance to get off its share of shots Thursday. Buffalo gives up 16 shots per game to its opponents, allowing 1.2 goals per game.

“It’s just a case of continuing with what we’ve been doing of late, and that’s having the versatility to attack down the left, right and center of the field to go at them from all angles,” Roberts said. “We want to sustain the pressure and create opportunities in the attacking third.”

Ball State’s back line has been problematic for the opposition, giving up just 9.2 shots per game, allowing one goal per game.

Ball State has won its last two meetings against Buffalo. Junior midfielder Lauren Roll scored the lone goal of last year’s meeting, a game in which Ball State out-shot Buffalo 20-1 in Roberts’ 100th career win as a collegiate head coach.

Ball State has won its last six regular season meetings with Akron, although Akron did defeat them in penalty kicks after 120 scoreless minutes in the 2015 MAC Tournament.

After its visit with Buffalo Thursday, Ball State will travel to Akron Sunday to close out its weekend with a 1 p.m. kickoff. Akron (1-13-2, 0-7-1 MAC) currently sits last in the overall MAC standings, having yet to win a game in its conference schedule.

Ball State will kickoff at 7 p.m. Thursday at Buffalo.

Contact Nate Fields with comments at nefields@bsu.edu.