FORT MYERS, Fla. – Facing unfamiliar territory of having to surpass an ASUN Conference opponent late in the season, the FGCU women's soccer team handled the pressure and handed Stetson its first loss in seven matches. The Eagles (11-4-1, 5-0-1 ASUN) used a goal in each half to defeat the Hatters (8-5-2, 5-1-0 ASUN) and jump into first place as the only unbeaten team in league play with only one match remaining in the 2016 regular season.
The victory for FGCU was also the final home regular season match for six departing Eagles. During their respective careers, the current crop of graduating Eagles finished a perfect 20-0 during ASUN play at the FGCU Soccer Complex including a redshirt season in 2012.
"Our guys knew what was at stake," said head coach Jim Blankenship. "If we didn't win this, then we're on the road (for the conference tournament). These were two very good teams and you can see why they were in first place. I thought our guys played extremely well and created some phenomenal opportunities."
The Eagles entered the day trailing their in-state rivals by two points in the ASUN standings. Needing a win to prevent Stetson from securing the regular season title thus ending FGCU's run of six-straight crowns, FGCU dominated possession and tested the Hatters frequently, producing 21 shots compared to only six for the visitors. The opener came in the 24th minute of play when Lindsey Patton (Jacksonville, Fla./Oakleaf HS) scored her first career goal, heading home a corner sent in by Meaghan Mulligan (Freehold, N.J./Colts Neck High School/Tennessee). FGCU was forced to wait until the 77th minute to tally what turned out to be an important insurance goal when Paulina Speckmaier (Miami, Fla./Gulliver Prep/Florida) finished off her third goal of the year from 12 yards out to make it 2-0. In the final seconds, Stetson spoiled the shutout, cashing in on a corner of their own for the 2-1 final.
The Eagles nearly got off to a flying start when a loose ball ended up at the feet of Mulligan just outside the penalty area. After Tabby Tindell (Ocala, Fla./Trinity Catholic HS) was taken down, Mulligan was in the right place to send the ball toward goal but her effort went above the bar as FGCU took control of the match early on.
Just minutes later, Tindell was played in behind the backline of Stetson and thought she had scored the opener only for Stetson goalkeeper Emily Plotz to knock it away. Ali Rogers (Naples, Fla./Gulf Coast HS) secured the rebound and attempted to curl it toward the far post with Plotz off her line but the Hatters' defense managed to block it to keep FGCU off the board.
With 16 minute gone, Mulligan was again in on the action, making a run toward the back post where her first-timed effort was saved by a diving Plotz. The Hatters' goalkeeper had little time to relax however as FGCU was again pushing forward. Tindell laid the ball off to Emilie Olsen (Frekhaug, Norway/Tertnes VGS), who struck the ball with pace but missed putting FGCU in front by a foot to the right.
It was a Tindell shot that Plotz barely got her fingertips to which ultimately set up the opener for the home side. After the initial shot from Tindell earned the first corner of the match, Tindell's effort on the first corner was deflected for another corner. Mulligan's service on the second corner was delivered closer to the penalty spot where Patton rose above everyone and headed it past a crowded box and Plotz to give the Eagles the lead.
Melissa Weck (Yorba Linda, Calif./Esperanza HS) had a quiet first half, making just one save that came in the 27th minute with the bulk of play occurring in the FGCU offensive third.
As the second half began, Rogers proved to a difficult task for the Hatters. The midfielder nearly doubled her side's advantage in the 57th minute only for Plotz to make keep the Hatters in the match for the moment. Rogers was free again two minutes later but again Plotz kept the senior off the board with point-blank save.
Stetson tested Weck from distance multiple times in the second half, the first coming in the 60th minute as the freshman made a routine save to keep the 1-0 lead.
With time winding down, the Eagles got an important insurance goal. After Stetson earned a free kick near midfield, the ball was cleared downfield and found Megan Young (White Lake, Mich./Walled Lake Northern HS). The freshman turned and found Olsen along the right side of the field, who then played a perfect service into the box. The cross skipped past Young and a Stetson defender and to an awaiting Speckamier who volleyed home her third goal of the season to make it 2-0.
On Stetson's final advance, Weck tipped Hailey Williams' shot out for a corner. It was Florenci Baldassini who broke the shutouts, scoring with 6.6 seconds remaining on the clock.
However, the goal was too late as the Eagles moved in to first place in the ASUN with 16 points and one match to play. It also helped secure FGCU's eighth-straight season where the Eagles have not lost a regular season home conference match.
While a seventh-straight ASUN regular season is within reach, FGCU needs to take care of business on the road. The Eagles travels to Jacksonville to meet UNF for the regular season finale, Saturday at 7 p.m.