From near misses on offense to frustrating goals, women’s soccer head coach Craig Roberts and the Cardinals have been left with disappointing results from a bad bounce more times than they’d care to think about — including their loss to Central Michigan earlier this year.
But now the only one they will remember is the ball that ricocheted off the cross bar and landed at Gabby Veldman’s feet.
In the 87th minute, the freshman winger slotted the game-winner and propelled Ball State past Central Michigan 2-1, and into the semi-finals of the Mid-American Conference tournament for the third time in program history.
“I thought we were the better team out there today, and we got what we deserved,” Roberts said. “We’re excited to be able to win this for the program, and I think it’s a testament to the girls and how well they’ve played this season.”
The late game heroics were nothing new to the Cardinals, who have played in six overtime games and have had seven other games decided by one goal or fewer.
After a stalemate in the first half, Roberts tweaked Ball State’s approach and lineup, playing a different group of attackers together to try and break the game open.
But Central Michigan struck first in the 52nd minute off a goal from Eli Kerkhove, who Roberts thought was offside when the ball was played to her. Kerkhove’s goal was the only offense the Chippewas could muster against the Cardinals’ defense and senior goal keeper Layne Schramm, who all returned to top form after a three-goal lapse against Miami University on Thursday.
“We were denying anything they were doing from the midfield down,” Roberts said. “We did a really good job keeping the ball down in our offensive third.”
There wasn’t even enough time for panic during the elimination game, as sophomore forward Elaina Musleh poked in the equalizer off a pass from sophomore Madison Oyer in the 65th minute.
“The girls responded well,” Roberts said. ”Like they’ve done all season, they adjusted and responded.”
Still in attack mode, Ball State continued pressing, firing off seven of its 17 shots in the 22 minutes between goals.
Finally Ball State drew a foul, and junior defender Cailey Starck lined up for the free kick. Starck’s shot rattled the crossbar, but came flying away from the goal.
And instead of another mistimed play, Veldman came running on and buried the biggest goal in her collegiate career.
The win over Central Michigan not only advanced Ball State to the semifinals and vindicated the 1-0 double-overtime loss from a week ago, but also validated its place among the elite teams in the MAC.
“I’ve said it since the beginning of the season and I think the team agrees, we’re not afraid to play anybody in the MAC,” Roberts said. “We think we can beat anybody in the MAC on a given day, and it’s time to take that into the next round.”
Besides Ball State, the remaining semifinal teams include No. 1 seed Eastern Michigan, No. 2 seed Miami and No. 4 seed Western Michigan.