The top-seeded Loyola University Chicago women's soccer team jumped out to an early two-goal lead before holding off a furious onslaught from fourth-seeded Illinois State to ultimately pick up a 2-1 victory this evening in the semifinals of the 2018 Missouri Valley Conference Women's Soccer Championship at Loyola Soccer Park. Tonight's win moves the Ramblers to 10-6-1, while the Redbirds wrap up the season at 10-9-2.
Barry Bimbi's Thoughts…
"I'm really excited for the girls. I thought it was a great first half. We scored an early goal to take the pressure out of the game a bit and then added another on the set piece from Jenna (Szczesny). Illinois State scored early in the second half to put pressure back on us and I thought they stepped their game up. They were much better in the second half and had us on our heels but, looking at it, we should've capitalized on a few counterattacks and we have to get better when those opportunities arise."
How It Happened
Much like in its victory over Evansville in the regular-season finale last week, Loyola came out on fire. Senior Madison Kimball
put the Ramblers in front less than seven minutes in, directing a pass from sophomore Lindsey Hardiman
past a sprawling Haley Smith, the Redbird goalkeeper, to make it 1-0. Shaina Dudas came dangerously close to putting the visitors back on level terms in the 22nd
minute, only to see her shot from 25 yards out bang off the crossbar.
The senior pairing of Taylor Lambouris
and Jenna Szczesny
joined forces to double the Loyola lead just past the half-hour mark. Following a Redbird foul, Lambouris sent a free kick into the box that found a leaping Szczesny, who directed a headed effort over Smith and in at the far post to send the Maroon & Gold racing into halftime with a 2-0 lead.
With its season potentially down to its final 45 minutes, Illinois State flipped the script and wasted no time in looking to pin Loyola back in. After an early stop by junior goalkeeper Kate Moran
on an Ashley Santos shot, Mikayla Unger, who registered the game-winner in the Redbirds' regular-season victory over the Ramblers, finished from close range to trim the margin to 2-1 in the 52nd
minute. Kiley Czerwinski almost made it 2-2 three minutes later, but sent her close-range attempt off a corner kick wide of the near post.
With regulation entering its final 30 minutes, Hardiman nearly provided Loyola with a valuable insurance goal, hitting the post from 10 yards out. Smith came up with a pair of key saves in the ensuing minutes to keep Illinois State within striking distance. On the other end of the field, Moran matched her counterpart, stoning Unger's bid for a brace in the 77th
minute. The Loyola netminder would come up with a final stop 10 minutes later, collecting Abby Basler's try, to punch Loyola's ticket to Sunday's championship game.
Looking At The Numbers
- Tonight's victory was Loyola's fifth over Illinois State in program history and books the Ramblers' second trip to the championship game of the MVC Tournament.
- Szczesny, fresh off being named the MVC Player of the Year on Thursday night, netted her team-leading 10th
goal of the season in the first half.
- Kimball continued her red-hot stretch, notching her fifth goal in the last three games to bring her season total in the category to nine.
- Moran closed the night with three saves in goal to spearhead Loyola's defensive efforts.
Loyola moves on to face off against second-seeded Drake in the championship game of the 2018 Missouri Valley Conference Women's Soccer Championship. The Ramblers and Bulldogs will battle for the MVC's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament at 1 p.m. on Sunday afternoon at Loyola Soccer Park.