By Dylan Vazzano, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Goals in each half and another stellar defensive effort helped pave the way for the Tennessee Tech soccer team in the club's second to last match of the regular season. Sitting on the outside of the OVC Tournament playoff picture at the day's beginning, the Golden Eagles found a way to collect a critical 2-0 win over SIUE Friday night at Tech Soccer Field to catapult themselves into a potential tourney berth with just one match remaining in the regular season.
TTU (7-7-2, 3-4-2 OVC) will enter Sunday's regular-season finale against Eastern Illinois in a playoff position as one of the top eight teams in the conference. A Golden Eagle win on Sunday guarantees the club a spot in the OVC Tournament.
With the victory, Tech also ran its conference unbeaten streak at home to 16 in a row, with 14 wins and two draws over a stretch dating back to October, 2015.
"Tonight was a huge win for us, there's no doubt about it," Tech head coach Steve Springthorpe said. "Our backs were against the wall a little bit and we knew we needed to come out and get something point wise out of this game. I'm so proud of our team and how we battled out there. It's been a bit of a trying season so far with some things that have happened to us with injuries, but the players got it done tonight and I am really proud of their effort."
Set-piece scoring was the name of the game offensively for the purple and gold, with both goals against the Cougars (5-8-1, 4-4-1 OVC) coming off of set pieces. Freshman Chloe Smith kick-started the offensive action with a goal in the 25th minute for the Cincinnati, Ohio native's second career goal.
Rachel Blow started the scoring strike after smacking a free kick that found Nora Vicsek inside the box. After Vicsek chipped the ball in the direction of Smith, the 5-foot-8 forward powered one into the back of the net to break the scoreless deadlock. Blow and Vicsek both earned assists on the play.
In the 79th minute, the Golden Eagles capitalized on a corner kick that essentially put the match on ice. Rachel Blow drilled a perfect far-side corner that connected with Kendall Powell, who headed it in through traffic for the Cookeville product's seventh goal this season and first in the last six matches.
Blow, who played the entire 90 minutes for the 16th time in 16 tilts this year, collected an assist on the corner to cap off a two-assist evening. The 5-foot-7 junior now has five assists this season.
"I think we've always prided ourselves on the ability to score off set pieces," Springthorpe said. "It has been a strong source of our offense over the last couple of years and tonight we were able to bury two of them which was just fantastic to see."
"And then of course to get a shutout is important to us," Springthorpe continued. "We always want to defend hard and tonight we certainly did a good job of that. Two goals and a shutout, as a coach you can't really ask for much more."
In her second to last regular season match of her collegiate career, senior Kari Naerdemann secured her sixth clean sheet of the season, and 34th throughout her Tech tenure, with five saves. SIUE sophomore Jensen Schoch notched four stops and yielded two goals.
Tech won the shot battle behind a 13-12 discrepancy in total attempts. Chloe Smith's four tries paved the purple and gold side, while Becca Jostes mirrored Smith's four shots with a quartet of her own to lead the Cougars.
With still much to be determined in the OVC playoff picture, the Golden Eagles will host Eastern Illinois in the regular-season finale Sunday afternoon. From third place to ninth place, seven teams in the conference are separated by just three points.
First kick with the Panthers is slated for 1 p.m. CT, with a special pre-match ceremony honoring Tech's senior class of Molly Kafader, Courtney Manning, Tina Marolt, Kari Naerdemann and Mayra Tarraga Manzanal set for just before the start of the contest.
"We knew coming into this weekend that we had to try and find a way to get points in both of these games one way or another," Springthorpe said. "Sunday is Senior Day and it's more than likely our last chance to play on our home field this year, so we want to send our seniors out the best way that we can. We want to play hard for them and I know we will honor them by doing just that."
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information