By Dylan Vazzano, Sports Information Coordinator
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – It's down to the final four in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament and the Tennessee Tech soccer team is right in the mix in its bid for the program's first OVC championship since 2000. The No. 3-seeded Golden Eagles (11-6-3) will lock up with No. 2 Eastern Kentucky in the first of two semifinals Friday, with the winner to play in Sunday's championship match against the No. 1 Murray State-No. 4 SIUE victor, the day's second semifinal.
First kick in Tech's tilt with the Colonels (13-4-0) is slated for 11 a.m. CT at Cutchin Field on the campus of Murray State, site of the host and top-seeded Racers. The match will be broadcast live on the Ohio Valley Conference Digital Network. Click here to watch.
The Golden Eagles are in the semifinals for the second-straight season, the first time the program has gone to the semis in back-to-back years since 2001-02. The appearance comes on the heels of TTU's first postseason victory since 2009 after the Golden Eagles knocked off No. 6 Belmont, 3-0, in Sunday's quarterfinal match at Tech Soccer Field. The victory also pushed Tech on the precipice of history as the Golden Eagles are a win away from matching the all-time record for wins in a season (12) set in three-straight years from 2000-2002.
Tech's shutout win over the Bruins set a new single season record with TTU's 10th blanking of the season, also knotting EKU for the most shutouts in the conference. Sophomore goalkeeper Kari Naerdemann collected six saves in the win, four of which occurred in the second half.
Offensively, the Golden Eagles received a stellar performance off the bench from freshman Dani Shartouny, who scored a pair of goals after coming into the match with one score all season. The 5-foot-4 forward put the Golden Eagles on top in the 22nd minute with an unassisted goal that was placed perfectly just inside the far post and under the cross bar on a drive from 30 yards out.
Shartouny's second goal that extended the Tech margin to 3-0 came in the 72nd minute, and saw the Sugar Hill, Ga. native blast in a rebound home on a Marissa Rouse shot after Rouse received a well-timed pass from freshman Kaitie Shipley. Rouse and Shipley earned assists on the play.
Sandwiched in between Shartouny's pair of net-finders was a Michaella Keyes goal, the Cincinnati, Ohio native's second career score that occurred with only 28 second left in the first half. Keyes gathered in a pass from senior Abi Gearing at the top of the box, before creating space and drilling it right under the cross bar to propel the Golden Eagles into the half chock full of momentum. Gearing and Rouse collected assists.
Friday's matchup with Eastern Kentucky will mark the second time in nine days that the two schools will meet after the Colonels knocked off Tech, 1-0, in Richmond on Oct. 27. A defensive battle played out with the two squads combining for only three shots on-goal, but EKU made the most of its only attempt as junior Jordan Foster buried in the match's lone score in the 69th minute.
Foster wrapped up the regular season tied for third in the OVC with eight goals and 21 points, and helps make up an impressive Colonel attack that is tied for first in the conference (SIUE) with 30 goals in 19 matches.
Defensively, EKU is second behind Tech in both goals allowed (14) and goals against average (0.82). Junior goalkeeper Anna Hall is deadlocked with Kari Naerdemann for the most shutouts in the league with 10 and her .835 save percentage trails only Naerdemann's .859 mark.
Eastern Kentucky's victory extended its lead in the all-time series with the Golden Eagles to 8-4-0.
The day's second semifinal features the last two OVC Tournament champions after SIUE captured the crown in 2014, before Murray State did the honors last season. The Racers ended their conference campaign with a second-straight unblemished record after going 7-0-3 to extend the club's unbeaten streak in OVC matches to 22-straight.
SIUE earned the right to play the tourney's top seed after outlasting Austin Peay in penalty kicks in Sunday's quarterfinal match. Scoreless through regulation and overtime, the Cougars edged the Govs, 5-4, in the shootout to move on to the semifinals for the fourth time in the last five seasons.
Photo by Jim Dillon