Athens, Ohio -- The women's soccer team had a tough task. Not only was it in its first-ever Mid-American Conference Tournament, but in its first game, it took on the No. 1 seed in its first tournament game Tuesday afternoon on a clear, crisp day in southern Ohio.
But the task that looked insurmountable for the women's soccer team turned out to be a nail-biter, coming down to the last seconds of the game as the Ohio Bobcats defeated the No. 8 seeded Cardinals 2-1.
From the start of the game, the Bobcats (12-8 overall, 11-2 MAC) controlled the game with strong midfield passing and aggressive attacks to the net. But defensive stands by sophomore goalie Megan Swafford and junior defender Ehren Reagor kept the score tied at zero going into halftime.
Still, Ohio kept the Cardinals (12-6-2 overall, 5-6-2 MAC) on their heels as they had 15 shots in the first half, compared to Ball State's six shots despite the Cardinals controlling the ball for the remaining 10 minutes of the half in which a fired-up Julie Pigozzo started a couple shoving matches after a few physical plays.
"That's just intensity that wears off five seconds after it happens," Pigozzo said. "It's just the way I play. There is no harm in my intentions, I'm just so competitive."
Ohio was the first to break the tie game as they scored 13 minutes into the second half. The goal came on a 30-yard shot from the left side by Jennifer Wright that slipped through Swafford's hands and barely made it under the top bar of the goal.
"It was a busy day," Swafford said of her seven saves on the game. "I was just trying to keep my team in it. It hurts a lot, to go from making big plays in the first half to letting one slip by that shouldn't have gone in."
Adding salt to her wounds, Wright was Swafford's high school teammate at Milton Union High School.
"That made it hurt 10 times more," Swafford said.
Ball State used the goal as a source of energy as the team got its first scoring opportunity of the second half when freshman Dee Nocero took a pass from freshman Kate Nadalin and fired a bullet to the upper-left side of the goal to tie the game 1-1.
In the end, the overmatched Cardinals' squad succumbed to the relentless pressure put on by the Bobcat attackers as Ohio's second goal came as a tired Cardinal defense could only try in vain as Christel Schiering hit a header into the net with only six and half minutes to play.
"(Ohio) is very good in the box," head coach Ron Rainey said. "(On the second goal) it was just a matter of them continuing to attack the goal. Our effort was there, we just couldn't get it done."
Reagor, who cleared several shots from in front of the goal, noted the constant offensive pressure by the Bobcats was no easy task.
"I'm really tired," Reagor said. "We knew it was going to be a defensive fight the entire time, that's the way the MAC is."
Even as the Cards fought the rest of the game trying to tie it up, Ohio was able to thwart all attempts to score by Ball State. And despite what Rainey called a "pretty good effort" by the team, many players were left with the feeling that they let one slip by.
"We set a goal in the beginning to make the tourney, and we did," Reagor said with hints of tears in her eyes. "We're really proud of what we accomplished and we should be happy. But we knew we could have won this one."