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Soccer advances to C-USA semifinal with win over WKU

Soccer advances to C-USA semifinal with win over WKU

North Texas senior Lindsey Hulstein (10) goes after the ball during the Conference USA semifinals against Western Kentucky. Courtesy Alex J. Hernandez | North Texas Athletics

Soccer advances to C-USA semifinal with win over WKU
November 05
03:07 2015

Alex Lessard | Staff Writer

@alexlikechexmix

In the first of four Conference-USA tournament quarterfinals matchups Wednesday, the No. 1 seeded Mean Green soccer team defeated No. 8 seed Western Kentucky University (8-6-5) by a score of 1-0.

Despite allowing the Hilltoppers to fire off twice as many shots, North Texas (17-3-1) benefited from a header from senior defender Molly Grisham late in the first half, giving the team a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.

“The humidity might have been the biggest factor today for both teams,” head coach John Hedlund said. “Today’s win sets the all-time record for a single season win total with 17. The girls really wanted to get to that special number this year.”

Western Kentucky came out of the gate in attack mode, getting off the first two shots of the game and seven in the first 25 minutes. The Hilltoppers finished the half with 10 shots, but senior goalkeeper Jackie Kerestine kept the opposition scoreless with four saves.

2015 November 04 -  (Photo by: Alex J. Hernandez / photobokeh.com) This image is copyright by PhotoBokeh.com and may not be reproduced or retransmitted without express written consent of PhotoBokeh.com. ©2015 PhotoBokeh.com - All Rights ReservedNorth Texas junior Rachel Holden (16) dribbles the ball during the during the Conference USA semifinals against Western Kentucky. Alex J. Hernandez | North Texas Athletics 

On the offensive end, North Texas didn’t need many shots to heat up. One of its best chances to take an early lead came in the 33rd minute, but junior midfielder Alexsis Cable was denied at the net by opposing goalkeeper Allison Leone.

Hedlund’s squad scored the first goal of the game with just four seconds left before halftime, as Grisham redirected a backside corner kick from senior midfielder Karla Pineda past a cluster of defenders into the back of the net. The score was Grisham’s third goal of the season, coming with the help of Pineda’s eighth assist.

“The longer you let a team hang around, they get more confidence. They think they can come at you more,” Grisham said. “To score going into the half, it’s a really big knock on their confidence.”

North Texas came close to adding to its lead in similar fashion in the opening minutes of the second half, missing wide on two headers. A flurry of substitutions from both sides and back-and-forth action followed for the remainder of the game, but the closest opportunity for a tie game came in 72nd minute. Western Kentucky’s Olivia Fitzgerald fired a shot that bounced off the post.

The Hilltoppers weren’t fazed and kept their aggressiveness alive through a physical final ten minutes. With just nine seconds before the buzzer sounded, Kerestine saved a last chance opportunity to secure the victory.

“The last thing we wanted to do was go into overtime,” Kerestine said. “Those extra minutes just strain you. It was nice to make the final play.”

With pressure mounting as the games are becoming more meaningful, Hedlund put all hands on deck down the stretch to survive and advance. All ten starters played over 70 minutes, including a full 90 from Grisham and senior defender Tess Graham.

The strategy paid off, earning North Texas its 14th shutout of the year and a spot in the second round of the tournament.

“The strategy was just to play what we’re used to playing and staying confident in our system, knowing that we won the regular season title for a reason,” Grisham said. “If we keep doing what we’re used to doing, then we’ll be fine.”

The Mean Green will face Middle Tennessee State University (11-5-4) in the semifinals on at 3:30 p.m. Friday after the Blue Raiders knocked off defending C-USA champion Rice University on Wednesday.

Featured Image: Courtesy Photo Alex J. Hernandez | North Texas Athletics 

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