Ball State soccer will look to punch its ticket to the Mid-American Conference Tournament championship game Thursday when it plays Toledo in the semifinals.

Ball State (11-6-3) is looking to keep the momentum it gathered Sunday in its 2-1 victory over Northern Illinois in the MAC Tournament quarterfinals. Junior midfielder Lauren Roll and sophomore midfielder Julia Elvbo each scored a goal in the first half of that game as the Cardinals led from the 28th minute on.

“I was really pleased with the way that we carried out the game plan,” head coach Craig Roberts said. “The girls were very disciplined on their approaches to goal, they were more selective and they ended up getting the goals they truly deserved.”

     Scoring Leaders (Goals)

Ball State                         Toledo

Julia Elvbo (4)          Hannah Scafaria (8)

Lauren Roll (4)          Isa Echeverri (5)

Sam Kambol (4)       Alena Sidwell (3)

Amanda Shaw (3)    Sophie Pohl (2)

Toledo (10-7-3) is also coming off a 2-1 win, defeating Western Michigan in the quarterfinals. Senior forward Sophie Pohl and senior midfielder Isa Echeverri led the Rockets to victory, each scoring a goal.

The Rockets played the Cardinals to a 1-1 draw in Toledo Sept. 24, a game in which Ball State dominated every statistical category except the scoreboard. Ball State held a 21-4 shot advantage, had three shots hit the crossbar, forced Toledo goalkeeper Madison Perrin to make 10 saves and held an 8-0 advantage in corner kicks. Lauren Roll scored an equalizer in the 83rd minute to force overtime and come away with the draw.

Head coach Craig Roberts has seen a lot of progression from his team since that game.

“There’s been constant progress of improvement all the way through since the start of the season,” Roberts said. “Each game we’ve learned from mistakes or areas that we’ve done well but we’ve felt we can improve and reach a higher standard. The team constantly strives to be better.”

Improve is just what the Cardinals have done. Since that game, Ball State holds an 8-1-1 record, the best in the MAC over that stretch.

Defense has been the calling card for Ball State all season. The Cardinals have earned eight shutouts and have a goals-allowed average of just .9 per game, second in the MAC behind Kent State (.7). Ball State shut out six of its nine opponents in October, only allowing multiple goals once in the loss to Northern Illinois.

Toledo has built some momentum of its own recently. The Rockets have won three consecutive games coming into Thursday, averaging 1.35 goals per game this season behind eight goals from junior forward Hannah Scafaria.

Scafaria scored the lone goal for Toledo in the September draw, so Roberts knows the defense will need to keep a close eye on her.

“We’re definitely going to have to make sure we deny her space to use her acceleration and speed,” Roberts said. “We’ll also have to make sure we have good cover in those situations so we can double-team her if she were to advance down the field. I think since [the last matchup] the backline is much improved, so we feel confident that we should be able to compete with her.”

Although Ball State is fifth in the MAC in goals per game (1.3), Roberts knows there is still room for improvement.

“We need to be more clinical in the last third and make sure that we capitalize on the opportunities we’re creating,” he said. “I would like to see an increase in shots that we’re taking, sometimes we’re getting into range and passing the ball off instead of taking the opportunity to shoot. I’m encouraging the forwards to unleash a little bit more.”

This game has big implications for whichever team comes away the victor. The winning team will move on to the MAC Tournament championship at 1 p.m. Sunday to play the winner of the second semifinal game between Kent State and Bowling Green. The winner of the MAC Tournament receives an automatic berth in the NCAA Women’s Soccer Championship Tournament. Ball State has one previous appearance in the MAC Tournament championship, losing to Western Michigan in 2013.

“As long as every player is giving me their best, that’s all I can ask for as a coach,” Roberts said. “They continue to do that whether they’re coming off the bench or starting, they’ve provided me with their best effort and as long as they’re doing that I can’t grumble. I’m delighted with their effort, that way we leave it all on the field.”

Thursday’s game will have a 4 p.m. kickoff in Kent, Ohio.

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