Miami Moves on to MAC Championship Game with Comeback Win

RedHawks face top-seeded Central Michigan for an NCAA Tournament berth

Junior Sara Lund scored her third game-winning goal this year and eighth goal overall Friday to send Miami to the MAC Championship game.

Junior Sara Lund scored her third game-winning goal this year and eighth goal overall Friday to send Miami to the MAC Championship game.

MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. – The Miami University women’s soccer team will play for its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2002 on Sunday, after earning a come-from-behind, 2-1 victory over second-seeded Eastern Michigan in the semifinals of the Mid-American Conference Tournament Friday afternoon at a cool and cloudy CMU Soccer Complex. The sixth-seeded RedHawks (12-7-1) will now face host and top-seeded Central Michigan, who beat fifth-seeded Toledo on penalty kicks in the first semifinal, Sunday in the MAC Championship game at 1 p.m. ET.

Miami, who is now riding a four-game winning streak, its first since 2002 when the ’Hawks won the MAC Tournament and won its first round NCAA Tournament game, defeated the Eagles (11-4-6) for the second time this year (EMU’s only MAC losses), snapping their seven-game unbeaten streak to end their season. Miami is now 3-0-1 against EMU in the MAC Tournament and 8-8-1 all-time versus Eastern Michigan.

The Eagles had opportunities early, but senior keeper Krista Pace (Toronto, Ont.) made a stop in the sixth minute while Katie Marsh’s blast from 30 yards out sailed high in the 13th minute. Freshman Jess Kodiak (Naperville, Ill.) had a chance to put Miami on top in the 25th minute but EMU keeper Monique Budani charged across the goal to make the stop.

Neither side was able to produce much offense in the opening half, as the Eagles held a 5-1 shot advantage while neither side earned a corner kick. Pace finished with three saves in the half to keep the match even at 0-0.

Miami had the wind at its back in the second half and senior Jodi Zwingelberg (Elgin, Ill.), a 2009 First-Team All-MAC selection, wasted no time using it as she blasted a shot from 20 yards away just over three minutes into the period, but Budani corralled the shot. Just over three minutes later in the 52nd minute, the Eagles broke the deadlock as senior Ashley Rodrigues, the 2009 MAC Offensive Player of the Year, scored her league-leading 10th goal on a cross from fellow senior Carissa Wilson.

Junior Sara Lund (Malmo, Sweden) looked to answer off the ensuing kickoff, however her attempt was blocked. The ’Hawks kept the pressure on though, earning a pair of corner kicks. A header by senior Stephanie Laser (Hinsdale, Ill.) was deflected away by Budani to keep the Eagles on top.

“We went down 1-0 and we haven’t responded well to that situation this year,” head coach Bobby Kramig said. “We actually worked on that in practice this week, ‘What if we’re down a goal, what if we’re up a goal.’ We had seen Eastern before and had a sense of what they were going to do. The kids just focused on the plan and they were patient and disciplined.”

After Pace made a finger-tip save to keep it a one-goal game and a pair of EMU corners came up empty, Miami earned a penalty kick in the 65th minute when sophomore Krysti Clarke (Scarborough, Ont.) was taken down by Jessica Thomas in the box and senior Allison Berkey (Hopkinton, Mass.) converted the kick to even the match at 1-1. The goal was Berkey’s seventh of the season and Miami’s second made penalty kick in three tries this year.

The Eagles earned a free kick near the top of the penalty box just a minute later but the shot flew over the crossbar. Lund had a header in the 67th minute that was saved but in the 71st minute, Lund’s head connected with a cross from Kodiak that beat Budani to give Miami its first lead of the match, 2-1. It was her team-leading eighth goal of the year and her second of the tournament.

EMU earned a corner with less than five minutes to play and Rodrigues fired a final shot in the 89th minute, but Pace was there to make the save and send the RedHawks to the title game.

“Overall, we’re really excited to finally get results for the hard work we’ve put in this season,” Lund said of the win. “We’ve all stayed very composed and worked very hard together. I think what’s been keeping us going, and now in the tournament, is that we really trust each other, always have each other’s back and have a lot of fun while doing it, so I think that’s been a big difference from previous years and the key to our success this year.”

The match finished with the shot count even at 9-9, as Miami out-shot Eastern Michigan 8-4 over the final stanza, while EMU held a slight, 3-2 edge in corners. Pace finished with four saves for Miami while Budani made five stops (four in the second half) in the loss.

The RedHawks will now make their fifth MAC Championship game appearance in program history and first since 2002. Miami was won three MAC Tournament titles (from 2000-2002) and lost the 1999 title game on penalty kicks to Eastern Michigan. The ’Hawks are 3-1 all-time against Central Michigan in the MAC Tournament, including a win in the 2001 title game, but CMU (15-3-3) beat Miami, 1-0, on Oct. 11 this year on its home field.

Live stats will be available for Sunday’s championship match on MURedHawks.com.

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