Ball State soccer closed out its regular season home schedule with a 1-0 win over Mid-American Conference foe Central Michigan at Briner Sports Complex that saw both teams struggle to keep possession of the ball at the start of the game.
“It was a definitely going to be a game of two halves, with the wind against us in the first half it was always going to be an influential factor,” head coach Craig Roberts said. “I felt that we weathered it well, in the second half we knew we’d have the advantage of that wind so we did really well finishing.”
The first half saw players trying to compensate for the conditions as the wind posed a problem for both teams’ aerial passing. Central Michigan was able to get some consistent pressure on the Ball State defenders early in the game, but Ball State was able to settle in defensively and hold Central Michigan to just three shots in the first half.
In the second half, Ball State began to apply the offensive pressure and pick up the pace with the wind at its back. In the 72nd minute, the Cardinals finally broke through the Chippewa defense and capitalized.
Junior midfielder Paula Guerrero sent a corner into the box and sophomore midfielder Peighton Cook seized the opportunity, getting free and sending a header off the bottom of the crossbar that snuck into the net for the lone goal of the afternoon. Cook’s goal was her first of the year, making her the ninth different Cardinal to score a goal this season. Guerrero’s assist was her second of the year.
“We have a great team and we brought game-changers in off the bench to help impact the game,” Cook said. “They left me wide open on the back because our star header was out of the game so I stepped in and was in position. It’s great to finally put a goal in, I’ve had a lot of close ones but it’s great to finally put a goal in the net.”
Cook tried to expand the lead as she sent another header toward the goal just two minutes later, but Chippewa goalkeeper Zoie Reed was able to corral the attempt to prevent another goal.
Sophomore midfielder Julia Elvbo tried to get in on the scoring in the 85th minute as a cross from the right side just outside the 18-yard box made its way to her, but she left her header just short as Reed was able to get her hands on it and keep it out of the net for her fifth and final save of the afternoon.
Central Michigan (6-7-3, 1-5-2 MAC) had one good chance at an equalizer in the 88th minute. Sophomore midfielder Marle Bringard saw a window of opportunity to get off a clear shot, but wasn’t able to make solid contact as she sent the ball high and over the left side of the net for a Ball State goal kick.
“I felt that we’d be able to get out more in the second half with the wind not withholding us and forcing us to keep the ball on the ground,” Roberts said. “We needed to play a little bit quicker and find the outside pockets with Central Michigan playing with three back on defense, they weren’t covering the outside pockets of the field so I felt that we were able to exploit those areas and consistently find balls into the center of the box and threaten the goal.”
Ball State (8-6-2, 6-1-1 MAC) dominated the stat sheet throughout the game. The Cardinals held a 13-4 overall shot advantage and were awarded 11 corner kicks, compared to just two for the Chippewas. Ball State once again displayed its depth and balance, having 10 different players record at least one shot.
The Ball State defense stepped up, facing the challenge of playing the leading MAC scorer, junior forward Lexi Pelafas. Ball State held Pelafas without a shot attempt throughout the entire 90 minutes.
“I felt that Yela Ziswiler and Taylor [Pooley] did a tremendous job, they kept [Pelafas] at bay,” Roberts said. “[Pelafas] is always a threat, but I felt the girls respected her ability and today they showed the ability of quality center backs.”
Senior goalkeeper Tristin Stuteville got another start for Ball State, recording her second consecutive shutout and saving the only shot on goal that Central Michigan registered.
With its win today, Ball State gained some breathing room atop the MAC West Division, but still sit two points behind Kent State (11-4-1, 7-1-0 MAC) for the overall conference lead with three games to play.
“It was important to keep on the tails of Kent State,” Roberts said. “We’re doing all that we can do, but right now we’re just focusing on what we can control and that is each game at hand. It’s a staircase process and we’re just taking it a step at a time.”
Ball State will play its final three regular season games on the road, starting with a trip to Buffalo Thursday. That game will have a 7 p.m. kickoff.
Contact Nate Fields with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.