The Radford University women’s soccer team defeated No. 4 Gardner-Webb, 2-1, Sunday to claim the 2019 Big South Women’s Soccer Tournament Title at the Matthews Sportsplex in Matthews, N.C.
The Highlanders went into the Sportsplex locker room with a 1-0 deficit through the first 45 minutes. Radford has been in that situation before and was even in a bigger hole just one game ago in the Big South Semifinals. However, the Highlanders never-quit attitude paid off in the tournament finale.
With five shots through the first 13 minutes in the second half, there was a sense in the air that the Highlanders would notch a goal and tie the match. That sense became a reality just one minute later as Lily McLane tied it up.
After a foul was called on Gardner-Webb, McLane set the ball up for a free kick from about 35 yards out. She kicked a lofty shot that appeared to be a pass into the box but was placed perfectly in the left upper 90 just over the leaping goalkeeper. The junior jumped with excitement as she put the Highlanders on the board in the 60th minute.
Gardner-Webb was playing heavy defense and it showed as the Highlanders fired a barrage of shots in the final half of play. With the match tied, the Runnin’ Bulldogs changed their game plan. It almost worked in the 68th minute when Maddie Turlington headed a ball on a corner kick that grazed the crossbar and went out of bounds. GWU fired two more shots, but Courtenay Kaplan made saves on both shots to keep the score tied.
Moments after a missed shot, the Highlanders had a breakaway as Gabi Paupst played a perfect ball to Nelia Perez who got behind the defenders. Katelyn Kellogg, the Gardner-Webb keeper, made a play on the ball but Perez saw an opening and fired a shot. Kellogg tipped the shot but didn’t get enough of it as the ball hit the left post and bounced into the goal giving Radford a 2-1 lead in the 81st minute.
Looking for more, the Highlanders took three more shots in the final nine minutes and held Gardner-Webb to just one. Once the clock hit zero, the 1019 Big South Tournament champions erupted with enthusiasm
Radford had a few good looks in the first half but couldn’t get a shot to fall. The Runnin’ Bulldogs took only six shots in the half but scored in the 20th minute. Jada Newton got past most of the Highlander defenders on a breakaway. She chipped a shot that hit a defender and popped over Kaplan’s head bouncing towards the goal. Kayla Thomas was on a dead sprint to get there for the save, but she didn’t have enough time as it hit the post and bounced in, giving GWU the early lead.
Radford fired 18 shots and held Gardner-Webb to 11. Each goalkeeper came away with two saves. With four each, Perez and Brianna Oliver had eight of the 18 shots while McLane and Alexeis Kirnos added three of their own. McLane and Perez were the only Highlanders with three shots on goal.
The Highlanders scored six of their eight goals in the Big South Tournament in the second half or later.
The championship was Radford’s seventh, the most of any Big South school. The Highlanders have now won back-to-back tournament titles for the second time in school history. The 16 wins this season ties a single-season record and is the first time Radford has ever tallied 16 wins in consecutive seasons.
“First off, congratulations to Gardner Webb on a great season and making it back to the final,” RU head coach Ben Sohrabi said. “I have a lot of respect for that group. I’m so proud of this team and I mean the entire team.
“This team showed so much cohesion and chemistry this season and truthfully had 29 players do it together,” the boss Highlander said. “They were the cardiac kids in the tournament. Winning the quarterfinal 3-2 then coming from behind in the last two games showed their leadership, heart and determination. We backed 16 wins last season with 16 more wins this year while getting everyone’s best game. This group had a lot of pressure and overcame it. I’m so proud of this team.”