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The Cardinals will play Western Michigan in Sunday's title game.
Photo by: Scott McNitt
Soccer Reaches First MAC Title Game in Penalty Kicks
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YPSILANTI, Mich. -- The Ball State soccer team is headed to the championship game of the Mid-American Conference Tournament for the first time in program history after defeating defending champion Miami University in penalty kicks Friday.

Lauren Hall’s kick clinched the victory for the Cardinals, sending Ball State (11-6-4) into a Sunday showdown with Western Michigan for the title. The Broncos defeated tournament host Eastern Michigan, the top seed, in the first semifinal of the day.

Sunday’s championship game will be played at 1 p.m. at Eastern Michigan’s Scicluna Field with the MAC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on the line.

“We are very excited,” Ball State coach Craig Roberts said. “Our confidence is high right now, and I think our girls see what is within reach. We will have to dig deep Sunday against a very good Western Michigan team.”

After Friday’s game went scoreless through 110 minutes, Cailey Starck and Leah Mattingly staked Ball State to an early 2-0 lead in penalty kicks with Miami (11-6-4) missing its first two attempts. An Elaina Musleh miss, followed by a successful try from Miami’s Kayla Zakrzewski left the Cardinals leading 2-1 with four shooters left.

Ball State’s Nicole Pembleton and Miami’s Kelsey Dinges alternated makes, putting the Cardinals ahead 3-2 and giving Hall a chance to seal it. Hall had not played in the game but came onto the field cold to beat Miami goalkeeper Allison Norenberg and end the game without the RedHawks even getting to their final attempt.

“Lauren was called upon, and she came through,” Roberts said. “She is really an example of the selflessness of our team.  Each of our players is capable and must be prepared at all times, and I’m really proud of the way Lauren stepped up to the plate.”

Just eight days after the same two teams combined for five goals in a 3-2 Miami victory to close the regular season, Friday’s matchup went scoreless through regulation and two overtime periods.

Ball State’s Layne Schramm, who made a key stop on Miami’s second penalty kick, made eight saves before the game went to PKs to help keep the game scoreless. As a team, Ball State successfully defended nine Miami corner kicks and withstood 34 total shots from the RedHawks.

“We made a couple mistakes in the previous game, but today we maintained our concentration throughout,” Roberts said. “Miami is very good on restarts, and we made the appropriate adjustments to be successful against those.

“We had them on the ropes at times, and they had us one the ropes at times. It was a fun game to be a part of, and I’m proud of our girls.”

The Cardinals have advanced through as the tournament’s No. 6 seed by getting past two teams that defeated them in the regular season, Central Michigan and Miami. They will get a shot at another one of those opponents Sunday. Ball State lost to Western Michigan 2-1 in October.

The Broncos are the No. 4 seed despite holding first place heading into the final day of the regular season. WMU earned its spot in the finals with wins over Kent State and Eastern Michigan. The Broncos are 10-5-5 on the season.

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