Ball State Soccer unable to piece together comeback against Bowling Green in MAC Championship game

The Ball State Soccer team huddles up before the game March 12, 2021, at Briner Sports Complex. The Cardinals tied at zero in double overtime against the Broncos. Jaden Whiteman, DN
The Ball State Soccer team huddles up before the game March 12, 2021, at Briner Sports Complex. The Cardinals tied at zero in double overtime against the Broncos. Jaden Whiteman, DN

In their first Mid-American Conference Championship appearance since 2018, the Cardinals fell short.

Ball State (6-3-1) suffered a 2-1 loss against Bowling Green (6-1) Saturday evening in the MAC Championship game. In a rematch from 2018, the Cardinals failed to match the Falcons' scoring pace in the second half to secure the victory.

Both teams got on the scoreboard early on, with the Falcons striking first. Bowling Green sophomore forward Kennedy White scored the opening goal at 4:07 in the first half. 

A few minutes later, at the 8:50 mark, the Cardinals evened the score with a goal from junior midfielder/forward Tatiana Mason. She scored on an assist from senior defender Shelby Kean. It was Mason’s fourth goal of the season, a team-high.

The score remained even for the rest of the half. Head coach Josh Rife said he was content with the way Ball State stayed the course after allowing a goal in the first five minutes of the game. 

“Obviously, it was not the ideal start that we wanted,” Rife said. “It was a great response by our group, I thought we settled in a bit. I thought for a stretch there in the first half, we were on the front foot, we were being a little dangerous, we had them pinned back a little bit.”

Junior midfielder Tatiana Mason passes the ball to junior midfielder Chelcy Ralph April 11, 2021, at Briner Sports Complex. The Cardinals beat the Eagles 2-1 to become the Mid-American Conference West Division champions. Jaden Whiteman, DN

In the second half, the Falcons regained the lead at the 61:01 mark. Sophomore midfielder Katie Cox scored what would, eventually, be the game-clinching goal. The Cardinals attempted five shots in the second half but did not convert on any of them.

“We had a couple really good chances,” Rife said. “I thought [Bowling Green] made some great plays, but equally, on our end, our girls did a great job and really created some great opportunities. If we get another goal out of that, obviously, I think it changes the game.”

Senior goalkeeper Maitane Bravo recorded five saves, a tie of her season-high. 

Between the two sides, there were 28 fouls and three yellow cards. Rife thought physicality played an important role in the Falcons' success. 

“I think anytime we tried to get into rhythm, they were going to be quick to get a tackle in,” Rife said. “If it meant giving up a foul, I think they were OK with that. It definitely worked to kind of disrupt our ability to get into a rhythm.”

In a shortened season due to COVID-19, Ball State finished with an undefeated record at home and finished No. 1 in the MAC West Division. Rife, who was received the MAC Coach of the Year award April 15, is proud of how his players competed throughout the season.

“I couldn't be more proud of the way they had to fight for everything,” Rife said. “You had to fight to get a season in, you had to fight to get on the field, you had to fight away from the field and be careful about what you're doing and where you're going. To do all that, and on top of it, to play really good soccer this season. I'm extremely proud of this group and what they accomplished this year.”

Contact Charleston Bowles with comments at clbowles@bsu.edu or on Twitter @cbowles01.

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