Conference USA Champions: Soccer Wins First-Ever Conference USA Title With Double Overtime Victory
Oct. 31, 2008
GREENVILLE, N.C. - After losing a two-goal lead in the second half, the East Carolina soccer team recovered to score with three minutes remaining in the second overtime period to seal its first-ever Conference USA title and the No. 1 seed in the 2008 C-USA Tournament. The Pirates finish the regular season with a 12-3-4 overall record and an unbeaten 7-0-4 mark in conference play while the Herd close their campaign with an overall mark of 5-10-4 and a league ledger of 3-8-0. Memphis defeated UAB, 2-1, on Thursday evening to clinch a share of the championship with ECU.
The title is the second regular season championship by any sport at ECU since the school joined the Dallas-based league as full members. The 2004 baseball team also won the C-USA regular season title.
With the victory, the Pirates turned in the first unbeaten run through Conference USA since Charlotte produced an 8-0-2 record in 2002. East Carolina also set new program standards for overall (12) and C-USA (seven) wins. After tallying just nine goals in their first seven C-USA matches, the Pirates racked up 10 in the last four contests.
ECU struck quickly, just 3:36 into the match. Senior Savanna Russo picked up the ball on the right side and slipped a pass to junior Jessica Swanson. Swanson then found senior Blair Heffner all alone in the box, springing her on a breakaway. Heffner calmly slotted the ball past Marshall keeper Liz Orton to make the score 1-0 in favor of the Pirates. Seventeen minutes later, East Carolina added to its lead. Swanson took a run with the ball through midfield and then passed it over to junior Alexis Foltz on the left side. Foltz then unleashed a nice cross that found the feet of freshman Amanda Malkiewicz, who touched the ball into an open net, increasing the Pirate advantage to 2-0. The score would remain the same at the half.
ECU outshot the Herd 7-5 in the opening stanza while also holding the advantage in corner kicks, 4-2.
Marshall came out determined in the second half and capitalized just eight minutes in. Missy Gordon ran free on the left side of the field and sent an accurate cross to Erika Duncan, who beat Pirate keeper Amber Campbell to the right, cutting the Herd deficit to 2-1. Marshall then completed its comeback 10 minutes later when Duncan passed to Angela DeSumma on the left. DeSumma then lifted a bending shot that beat Campbell high into the right corner netting. Neither squad could find the net again, as ECU was forced into overtime for the fourth time in the last five matches.
Midfield play was the story in the first overtime period, as no one on the field recorded a shot. The Pirates, seeking the game-winner, put pressure on the Herd in the second extra interval and it finally paid off in the 106th minute of the contest. Freshman Jessica Woodward took a few touches and slid the ball to sophomore Jessica Cunningham on the left side. Cunningham's cross to Heffner was true as the senior was unmarked and headed the ball past Marshall replacement keeper Lauren Roberts for the conference title-clinching goal.
Campbell recorded five saves to set the East Carolina career mark for wins by a goalkeeper in a single season, as she took the decision in all 19 contests during the regular season. Additionally, Heffner pushed her team-leading goal total to seven, two more than she recorded last season as a junior.
"Obviously, we had some letdowns today, losing a two-goal lead, but I am proud of our ladies for recovering and winning our first conference title," head coach Rob Donnenwirth stated. "Marshall deserves a lot of credit for the way it played today. We will have to get some things worked out before the conference tournament but we are definitely going to enjoy the championship today. We will now get ready for our third season (the C-USA Tournament)."
With the regular season behind them, the Pirates now get ready for the 2008 C-USA Tournament, which is scheduled for Nov. 5-9 at the Rice Track and Soccer Stadium in Houston, Texas. Top-seeded East Carolina will learn its first-round opponent at the conclusion of tonight's C-USA schedule of matches.