MILWAUKEE – Rachel Phillpotts scored an early goal and Haley Johnson added an insurance strike in the second half to send the Milwaukee women's soccer team to a 2-0 victory over UIC Saturday evening at Engelmann Stadium.
The Panthers (17-1-1) shutout the Flames (12-6-1) in the Horizon League Tournament Championship, earning an automatic spot in the 2019 NCAA Tournament. This marks the second straight year for MKE in the NCAA Tournament and also the 13th in program history.
"It's a good feeling," head coach Troy Fabiano said. "You look at the body of work of the ladies from the get-go and this was one of our goals. Just to be picked here and to follow up last year with this. It's an amazing group of players – they deserve it. They work extremely hard and when you have a target on your back and deliver like they did for the entire season is amazing to me."
Phillpotts quickly snapped the scoreless streak of Horizon League Goalkeeper of the Year Lena Kurz at 343 straight minutes, blasting a ball off a corner kick scramble to the far post for the early lead just 8:53 into the evening.
"Sometimes in a game like this pressure can build up," Fabiano said. "But we got the goal. One of the things we preached this year was finding a second goal. In the past, those have been 1-0 games, but we found a second goal to put less pressure on us. They believe in themselves and have done it for 18 games this year."
Milwaukee tried to build on the advantage, seeing Kurz make a solid stop of a Taylor Hattori effort after getting sprung by Johnson in the 27th minute as well as a brilliant full-out diving stop of a Julia Barajas one-timer off service from Natalie Auble in the 35th minute.
Again just up 1-0 at the half despite holding majority of possession and outshooting the visitors 6-to-3 in the first half, it took until midway through the second to find the insurance goal. This time it was Tournament MVP Haley Johnson doing her thing, taking a thru ball from McKaela Schmelzer and doing the rest, running onto the ball and sending a right-footed blast into the right-side netting for her ninth goal of the season at the 70:15 mark.
In net, Elaina LaMacchia was credited with six saves on the evening to claim her ninth shutout of the season, saving the best for last. She timed Tamae Douglas' free kick effort perfectly, pushing the potential goal up and off the cross bar in the 81st minute.
Johnson was joined on the Horizon League All-Tournament Team by Schmelzer, Mackenzie Schill and LaMacchia.
For the game, MKE ended up with advantages of 11-to-9 in shots and 5-to-1 in corner kicks, while the visitors grabbed the 6-to-5 edge in shots on goal. Johnson led the Panthers with three. The Flames allowed 12 goals all season, an average of 0.63 per game – five of those goals were scored in the two losses against Milwaukee.
The Panthers will find out where they are headed in a few short days. The 2019 NCAA Women's Soccer Championship bracket will be announced Monday, Nov. 11 on NCAA.com. The team will gather and head to the UWM Gasthaus on campus to watch it unfold, kicking off at 3:30 p.m.
Horizon League All-Tournament Team
Most Valuable Player: Haley Johnson, Milwaukee
McKaela Schmelzer, Milwaukee
Mackenzie Schill, Milwaukee
Elaina LaMacchia, Milwaukee
Cassidy Privett, UIC
Tamae Douglass, UIC
Lena Kurz, UIC
Kailey Ivins, Northern Kentucky
Shawna Zaken, Northern Kentucky
Nikki May, Oakland
Sami Lopez, Oakland