By Dylan Vazzano, Sports Information Coordinator
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Behind an offensive barrage that tied a season-high in goals, the Tennessee Tech soccer team came through swimmingly in the quarterfinals of the OVC Tournament, blanking No. 6 Belmont, 3-0, to move on to the semifinals. No. 3 Tech will play No. 2 Eastern Kentucky Friday in Murray, Ky. as the Golden Eagles (11-6-3) are in the OVC Tournament semifinals for the second-straight season, the first time the program has gone to the semis in back-to-back years since 2001-02.
Freshman Dani Shartouny scored a pair of goals to help pave the way offensively, while a timely score from junior Michaella Keyes in the final 30 seconds of the first half, helped propel Tech to its first playoff victory since 2009.
"It was a fantastic win of us and I'm so happy for our team," TTU head coach Steve Springthorpe said, moments after earning his first postseason win as Golden Eagle head coach. "You go into a conference tournament where it's an elimination game with obviously so much on the line, and for us to rise to the occasion today was great to see. I'm happy for our seniors too. It was their last game on this field today and they gave it their all and played hard. I'm excited about what the future holds for us as we get to go further in this tournament."
Tech's three goals matched a season-high in scores, a feat accomplished Aug. 28 in a 3-0 win against Mercer and Sep. 9 in a 3-0 victory at Middle Tennessee. The Golden Eagle defense registered its 10th shutout of the season, a new program record for shutouts in a season, surpassing the 2001 TTU squad that had nine.
Knotted at 0-0 in midway through the first half, freshman Dani Shartouny made her presence felt immediately after coming in off the bench at the 21:16 mark. 35 seconds later, Shartouny found the back of the net, drilling one from 30 yards out that was perfectly placed upper 90 along the far post. The impressive drive came on the heels of a Golden Eagle corner that saw Karigan Owens blast one off the head of Bruin senior Brittany Coca, and carom right to Shartouny, who aggressively buried the chance to put TTU ahead, 1-0.
It looked as if Shartouny's net-finder would be the only score of the first stanza, but in the waning stages of the period, junior Michaella Keyes had other ideas. With 28 seconds left before intermission, the 5-foot-10 forward collected a beautiful ball from senior Abi Gearing at the top of the box, before creating the necessary space and smacking it right under the cross bar to extend the Golden Eagle edge to 2-0.
Keyes now has two goals on the season, while Gearing and fellow senior Marissa Rouse notched assists on the play, the first of two assists for Rouse on the afternoon.
Leading 2-0 at the break, Tech came out with a slew of momentum that saw the Golden Eagles belt three shots in the first five minutes as TTU continued to apply a heavy dose of pressure. In the 72nd minute, the club broke through yet again.
After gathering in a loose ball, Keyes played one along the far side to freshman Kaitie Shipley, who glided down the pitch, before setting up a perfect cross inside the box to Marissa Rouse. Rouse took the shot that was promptly deflected by freshman goalkeeper Lily Herman, but the ricochet went right to Dani Shartouny, who slammed one through the wide open net for her second goal of the match and third of the season. Shipley and Rouse earned assists on the goal that gave Tech a 3-0 lead.
"She had a different fire lit underneath her today," Springhtorpe said on the play of Shartouny. "She plays hard all the time, but today she just went after it and stuck in her chances. She was aggressive and had a great game in the limited amount of minutes she had today."
Sophomore Kari Naerdemann tallied her 10th shutout of the season and 17th of her career thanks to a six-save effort, four of which occurred in the second half. Belmont senior Stephanie Bukovec played the first 45 minutes between the pipes, yielding two goals and making one stop, before Herman came on for the final period, surrendering one goal and making two halts.
Belmont (6-9-4) outshot Tech, 14-13, led by junior Belicia Mendiola's seven. Shartouny led the TTU charge with three shots, narrowly missing out on a hat trick after a 73rd minute try slammed off the post.
The Golden Eagles officially wrap up play at home in 2016 with an 8-1-1 overall record, going 6-0-0 against schools from the OVC.
Tech will hook up with EKU from Cutchin Field on the campus of Murray State Friday in the OVC Tournament semifinals. The tilt will mark the second time in nine days that the two schools will lock up after the Colonels bested Tech, 1-0, in Richmond on Oct. 27. First kick is slated for 11 a.m. CT.
Photo by Thomas Corhern