By Dylan Vazzano, Sports Information Coordinator
MURRAY, Ky. – The Tennessee Tech soccer team's exhilarating 2016 campaign came to a halt Friday afternoon as the No. 3-seeded Golden Eagles were upended in penalty kicks after their semifinal bout with No. 2 Eastern Kentucky went scoreless through regulation and overtime. The Colonels (13-4-1) outlasted TTU in the shootout, 4-1, to move on to the OVC Championship Match Sunday afternoon against the winner of No. 1 Murray State and No. 4 SIUE in Friday's second semifinal.
Tech's 11th shutout of the season extends its program record for the most in a year, while the Golden Eagles (11-6-4) close out 2016 tying the 2004 and 2002 squads for fewest losses in a season. TTU's 11 victories are the first time the program eclipsed double-digit wins in a year since 2002, and Tech's 13 goals allowed are the lowest ever surrendered in a single season.
"First off, congratulations are in order for EKU and them advancing in penalty kicks after a hard fought game where I thought both teams played with a lot of passion," TTU head coach Steve Springthorpe said after the match's conclusion. "Both teams defended really well, similar to the matchup we just had with them last week. At the same time, I thought our team generated opportunities, but just couldn't find a way to put one through. In the end it was scoreless through overtime and you head into the shootout where there's no telling how it's going to go. Ultimately, you go out there and do the best you possibly can."
After the two clubs played nine days earlier in what was a 1-0 EKU win that featured only three shots on-goal, things opened up more to the tune of 14 combined shots on-goal, seven by both side. Fresh off winning the OVC Defensive Player of the Year award for the second consecutive year, sophomore Kari Naerdmeann registered seven saves en route to her 11th shutout of the year, and 18th of her career. All seven stops occurred after halftime, including one in each overtime.
Across the way, junior Anna Hall secured her 11th shutout of the season as well, also making seven saves. Four of Hall's seven halts came in the first half, including a pair of Karigan Owens attempts in the first five minutes of the match.
Hall's two biggest saves of the tilt came during PK's as the Ross, Ohio native helped propel the Colonels to a 4-1 shootout edge. The 5-foot-9 goalkeeper stopped two of Tech's three attempts during the shootout, diving to knock away TTU's first and third tries. Sandwiched in between the pair of saves was a Rachel Blow make for the Golden Eagles' lone score.
Eastern Kentucky went a perfect 4-for-4 as junior Emmi Carroll, sophomore Kacy Eckley, junior Allison Werner and freshman Larissa Heslop all found the back of the net. Heslop's split of the pipes clinched the match for the Colonels, sending EKU to Sunday's final.
"I'm proud of the way our team represented the school and the program as a whole," Springthorpe said. "It was a fantastic season and we accomplished a lot. We set a number of records and did things that haven't happened around here in a while and I'm proud of our team for that."
"We want to thank our seniors for all they have gone through with the program these last four years," Springthorpe claimed. "They have helped bring a winning mentality and have created something special here at TTU, and we congratulate them for all they have done. I also want to thank all the TTU supporters, family members, administration and staff for all the support they've given us over the last year. There are so many individuals behind the scenes and we want thank them for everything they have done. We look forward for the opportunity to get back to this point next year."
Photo by Dave Winder, Murray State Sports Info