Messiah Downs Otterbein In Double OT Thriller
Baltimore, MD -- Following Saturday afternoon's NCAA Sectional match-up against Otterbein College at Johns Hopkins University's Homewood Field, Messiah head coach Scott Frey was pensive.
"Teams are defined by what they do when things get tough," he said.
And the definition of his team?
Dynamic, patient winners.
After 104 minutes of play, it was, yet again, the dynamic tandem of senior Amanda Naeher and junior Erin Hench that broke through a steady Cardinals' defense -- punching the Falcons' ticket into the Sectional Finals via a 1-0, double-overtime win against Otterbein -- a team ranked ninth in the latest NSCAA/Adidas Top 25 Poll and sixth in the most recent D3soccer.com Top 25 Poll.
Naeher scored her team-leading 29th goal of the season off a nifty slot ball from Hench, marking the second straight game the Seymour, Conn. native had won very, very late in the run of play.
Messiah (22-0-1) now moves on to face host Johns Hopkins, which defeated Middlebury College by a 1-0 count in the day's other semi-final.
"It was a grind today, but we kept pressuring," said Scott Frey, Messiah head coach. "I'm proud of the way this group has responded to these situations these past few games."
Saturday's Messiah-Otterbein tilt developed slowly as both teams adjusted to the rate of play on Homewood Field's turf pitch -- a foreign surface to both grass-oriented squads. Otterbein (22-2-1) would strike first, however, as the Cardinals were granted a free kick just 10 minutes into the game following a Messiah foul. Otterbein senior Megan Cooper stepped up to take the 40-yard attempt and rocketed a blast that missed the frame -- barely -- to the right.
As the first half continued and both teams settled in, Messiah began to set the rhythm and take control of possession. Interplay being the wings and midfielders gave the Falcons some quality chances to find the back of the potato sack, but with five defenders playing in the defensive third for the Cardinals, the going was tough.
At the end of the first half, despite Messiah's control of possession, both teams were at a stalemate statistically: Messiah had three shots, one on goal, and three corner kicks, while Otterbein had two, one and zero, respectfully.
In hopes to beat that back line, Frey tinkered with his club at the half, giving them a more offensive look.
It was instant offense.
For the first 30 minutes of the second period, the Falcons played deep into the Otterbein defensive, patiently looking to create space off the wings and through the midfield. Cross after cross was sent in off the wings, but each could not be connected and finished for a goal.
Just past the 78-minute mark, Otterbein had a counter attack, pressing forward and breaking the possession of Messiah. After a deflection off the endline, Cardinals' junior Cristen Herold stepped up to take the corner kick. Her serve went deep to the left side of the field where classmate Hannah Fairbanks blasted a low shot to the far post. Sophomore keeper Autumn Reilly dove to her left, trying to come up with a save, but the ball was just outside her reach.
Luckily, junior Lisa Wingard kept her position on the far post and saved the seemingly inevitable goal -- averting disaster.
Toward the end of the second half the crowd was anticipating a goal from senior Amy Horst who, from the wing, came inside the box behind the defense. Sophomore Leah Sipe played in a pair of great serves to the far post, but Horst's touches were just out of the reach of the crosses.
Energy and momentum was in favor of the Falcons entering the first overtime period, as Messiah led 8-4 in shots, 3-1 in shots on goal and 6-1 on corners. Those numbers failed to put a score on the board, however, and the game continued in the scoreless deadlock.
"I thought our back line played fantastic," Frey said. "They really kept everyone playing well. The midfielders played with patience and created space for us. Leah was dynamic in the way she played today. Overall, I was pleased."
With the first overtime playing just like the previous 90 minutes, the second overtime started with anxious fans hoping for a goal to avoid penalty kicks.
It wouldn't take long before the Messiah break through -- in typical Falcon fashion, no doubt.
It all started as the clock ticked toward six minutes remaining, as junior Katie Hoffsmith played Hench a ball from her right back position. Hench then beat four defenders while keeping her dribble alive, closing in on the Otterbein 18-yard box.
With three of those defenders on her back, Hench touched a simple ball right to the feet of Naeher, who was patiently waiting to the left of the group. With one swing of her right leg, Naeher scored a top-shelf, near-post, six-yard blast which erupted both fans and players alike.
Frey, having seen the duo meet up 12 times on the year before this occasion, reacted in nearly the same fashion as all the other times: While his players piled on top of Naeher in the middle of the field, the 10-year head coach stood on the sideline, a grin from ear to ear.
"Erin and Mandy really set the tone (in overtime) for us," Frey would later say.
After the game, Frey was asked if he was concerned with the team's lack of normality in the offense and the long droughts without scoring. After all, Messiah had scored 97 goals in the 21 games leading up to the NCAA Tournament, only to score twice in its two contests since then.
Frey paused for a moment. Then he said he was not.
"I think this is good for us," Frey said plainly. "It is always good to compete and battle (in the NCAA Tournament). It keeps us working throughout the game. I thought we played well and battled all game long."
With the win, Messiah advances to the Sectional Finals for the sixth straight year, and seventh in team history. They will be matched up against the host Blue Jays, a team Messiah has plenty of recent history with: Earlier this year, the Falcons beat JHU by a 2-0 score on Shoemaker Field, scoring twice in the final 45 minutes. Last year, however, Hopkins got a 0-0, double-overtime result on the turf of Homewood Field.
Again, Frey said he is not worried.
"(Johns Hopkins) is a good team but we are ready and prepared," he said. "It should be a very good game."
Game time is set for 2 p.m. Fans can get all the information regarding the event at JHU's official tournament website. WVMM will broadcast both Messiah's women's and men's games over the weekend on 90.7 FM and via streaming audio on the World Wide Web.