The Spring Arbor University women’s soccer team showed some moxy Tuesday afternoon on the road in Winona Lake, Indiana. The Cougars battled back from one goal defecits twice and had the last laugh by scoring the final goal in the 105th minute to distance themselves from Grace College in the Crossroads League tables.
Both Grace and Spring Arbor entered the match at 5-0 in the Crossroads League with Spring Arbor being ranked at #8 in the NAIA at 11-2-1 and Grace receiving votes in the latest polls at 8-4 overall.
Spring Arbor controlled the opening half of play statistically, out shooting the Lancers 11-4 in the frame but it was Grace who drew first blood when Holly Bennett hit a bullet from the top of the box to put the home team up 1-0 in the 14th minute.
The Cougars were quick to answer when Nikki Bonnema crossed a ball to senior Karly Linton just three minutes later. With three defenders trainling her, Linton beat Lancer goalkeeper Carmen Barnhill from 12 yards out for her 15th goal of the season.
Grace responded later in the half when a defensive miscue between the Cougar centerbacks left Grace’s Jordan Hairgrove unmarked in the SAU penalty area. Hairgrove polished off a cross from Meredith Hollar at the near post to put the hosts up 2-1 heading into halftime.
The Lady Cougars answered back in the 61st minute when Linton took a pass from freshmanRachel Shive and finished a low shot under Barnhill from 18 yards out to knot the match at two.
Momentum swung back and forth in the second half of play, with neither team generating a lot of offense close to the other’s goal area. With nothing decided after ninety minutes of play, the match moved into overtime.
It was the second overtime period where Linton put the game on ice. Sophomore Shannon Balcerplayed a ball forward to senior Brooklyn Morgan who laid the ball off for Linton who was making an overlapping run past her. Linton’s strike from the top of the box was not to be stopped, as it dipped into the upper corner of the far post, past an outstretched Barnhill for the golden goal and game winner.
The game winning goal was Linton’s eighth of the season, a mark which leads the NAIA. The three goals push her total to 17 for the year, which also ranks her inside the top ten nationally for goals scored.
“Grace has a very good team,” commented SAU head coach Jason Crist. “After we only converted on one of our chances in the first half I was a little concerned. We created good looks at their goal, hit the post on three different occasions, but came away with only one goal to show for it. More often than not in the game of soccer that comes back to haunt you. We were pleased that we did a better job of finishing in the second half and overtime.”
In a match played in front of several hundred rowdy fans, the Cougars outshot the hosts 19-16 and held an 8-4 advantage in corner kicks. Grace outfouled Spring Arbor 19-17 in a relatively physical matchup.
Spring Arbor moves to 12-2-1 and 6-0 with the victory while Grace falls to 8-5 and 5-1 in the Crossroads League tables. Spring Arbor controls it’s own destiny in the chase for their third consecutive regular season Crossroads League crown. The Cougars sit atop the Crossroads League standings with three matches yet to be played at 6-0. Grace falls to second place at 5-1 and the University of St. Francis, Mount Vernon Nazarene University and Huntington University are deadlocked in a three way tie for third place at 4-2.
The Lady Cougars welcome Huntington University to campus on Saturday for a 4:00 p.m. matchup in their next Crossroad League tilt.
Dave Mayotte, SAU