By Dylan Vazzano, TTU Sports Information Coordinator
JACKSONVILLE, Ala. – Fresh off a thrilling road victory to kick off the 2015 OVC season, the Tennessee Tech soccer team parlayed that momentum into a second-straight road win to open up conference action, defeating Jacksonville State, 2-1, Sunday afternoon.
The Golden Eagles (4-4-3, 2-0-0) used a hot stretch that saw two first half scores in the span of just two and a half minutes, coupled with another stellar defensive effort, to soar past the Gamecocks (4-6-0, 1-1-0) en route to the program's first 2-0 OVC start since 2005. TTU is also unbeaten in seven of its last eight matches.
"It's a great win for our program," Tech head coach Steve Spingthorpe said. "It was a hard fought, back and forth, physical battle between two teams trying to come out with a conference victory. I'm excited about how we finished the game and I'm excited to get a win that gives us a 2-0 start."
Scoreless into the 30th minute, Tech caught fire with a pair of well executed goals that jumped the Golden Eagles into a commanding position with a 2-0 edge. Sophomore Zoie Hensley started the quick scoring brigade with a cross from the left side that poked right off the head of fellow sophomore Cassidy Ortman and into the back of the net to christen the scoring in the 30th minute.
The assist bumped Hensley's team-lead to four on the season, while Ortman's net-finder was the first of the Huntsville, Ala. native's two-year career.
A mere two and a half minutes later, Tech struck again behind a corner kick in the 32nd minute. For the third consecutive match, the Golden Eagles split the pipes on a corner, with sophomore Karigan Owens setting up the score for the 5-foot-9 defender's third match in a row with an assist. The La Grange, Ky. native pushed one into the box, connecting with junior Abi Gearing on a header that was buried home to extend the Tech margin to 2-0. The corner was one of 10 in the first half for the Golden Eagles.
Gearing's score was the first of the year for the 5-foot-9 forward, and continued a balanced TTU offensive attack that has now featured goals from seven different Golden Eagles this year. Gearing finished the tilt with a team-high three shots.
Tech carried the 2-0 advantage into halftime for the club's ninth first-half shutout in 11 matches this season.
Despite a late Gamecocks' goal on a Kelsey Bright score in the 81st minute, the Golden Eagle defense stood tall in allowing only their third goal on the road all season long. Freshman goalkeeper Kari Naerdemann made six saves in the victory, while JSU's Caroline Robinson halted four Tech shots, surrendering two goals in the process.
"Our back four stood strong all match long, especially in the second half when we were under a lot of pressure. JSU put more numbers forward and was more direct in their play in the second half," Springthorpe claimed when asked about his squad's defensive effort. "We did allow a goal, but ultimately I'm proud of the way our defense performed. They continue to play that tough, hard nose style that has allowed us to find a way to get a victory."
The Golden Eagles will return home and put their unblemished OVC record on the line Friday, Oct. 2 as Tech welcomes in Eastern Kentucky. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. CT.