YPSILANTI, Mich. -- The Ball State soccer team’s bid for its first ever NCAA Tournament appearance came up one win short in a hard-fought battle Sunday with Western Michigan.
The Broncos scored the game’s only goal in the 62nd minute and held on for a 1-0 victory in the Mid-American Conference Tournament championship game at Eastern Michigan’s Scicluna Field.
It was the first ever title game appearance for Ball State (11-7-4). Western Michigan (11-5-5), on the other hand, was playing in its third championship game in four years and broke through for its first crown during that stretch.
Ball State came painfully close to tying the game with fewer than 10 seconds to play, but Nicole Pembleton’s goal was disallowed on an offside call. The final seconds ticked off the clock as the Broncos locked up the MAC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“I am really proud of this team and their effort,” Ball State coach Craig Roberts said. “The girls played with tremendous spirit; we just fell short. Western Michigan is a very good team. Sometimes it goes your way and sometimes it doesn’t, but I’m proud of our team’s performance throughout the entire season.”
Western Michigan’s goal Sunday came at the 61:15 mark when Ali Russo sent a ball from outside the top right corner of the box toward the far post. The ball deflected off the left post and into the net to break the scoreless tie.
Ball State had three good scoring chances of its own in the second half, but none of them materialized into the goal the Cardinals needed to force extra time.
The first opportunity came with the game still scoreless in the 51st minute. Western Michigan goalkeeper Michelle Watson dove to deflect a hard Maimee Morris strike that looked for certain like it would put Ball State on the scoreboard.
The second came in the 72nd minute with the Cardinals applying pressure in the box. An Elaina Musleh shot was blocked, and Jasmine Moses collected the ball and fired it at the goal, but Watson was there to make the stop on that one, as well.
The third chance came on the final possession with the Cardinals trying to beat the clock. Leah Mattingly worked her way to the top of the box and chipped a pass over the top to Pembleton, but the Ball State junior forward was just offside and her game-tying goal was negated.
“Right up until the end, we never stopped trying,” Roberts said. “I think that says a lot about this team. We never give up. We’re going to keep on fighting, and I can’t ask for any more than that from the girls.”
Ball State may have lost Sunday’s championship game, but the team’s deep tournament run capped a fourth consecutive season of improvement. The Cardinals reached double digit wins for the first time since 2007 and won two league tournament games for the first time ever.
“I think it’s a testament to our seniors,” Roberts said. “They have been pillars. I can’t be more proud of their commitment and dedication to the program.
“This is a critical step for us. We’re a team now that can compete with anybody and has earned the respect of everyone in this conference.”
MAC All-Tournament Team
Megan McCabe, EMU
Cara Cutaia, EMU
Lauren Kelly, Miami
Jess Bronke, Miami
Victoria Jacobs, Ball St.
Elaina Musleh, Ball St.
Kelsey Shapiro, Ball St.
Rachel Chaney, WMU
Lindsey Lee, WMU
Kylie Nylen, WMU
Ali Russo, WMU