DALLAS, TEXAS – A second-half goal was the difference as the East Carolina soccer team fell to No. 14 SMU 2-1 on Sunday afternoon in the AAC Championship First Round.
“Obviously, we are disappointed in the result,” said head coach Jason Hamilton. “We didn’t do enough today to give ourselves a chance. When you get to the postseason, you have to play your best because its win or you’re done. That wasn’t the best this group has.”
The Pirates finish the season with an 8-9-2 record. SMU improves to 11-3-2 and will move on to take on No. 1 seed South Florida in the AAC Championship Semifinals.
“SMU is a very good team and they were better today,” Hamilton said. “They were much more physical than we were. They won the first ball and beat us to the second ball most of the time. They definitely deserved to win the game.”
The Mustangs struck first. In the 11th minute, Wayny Balata drove deep into the East Carolina end. Coming down the right side, Balata let loose a low, bouncing shot that slipped just inside the left goalpost.
Trailing by a goal was not where East Carolina wanted to be, as SMU had relinquished a lead just twice this season and had not lost after being ahead. But the Pirates were not deterred and had an almost immediate response.
In the 13th minute, East Carolina earned a corner from the right side. Morgan Dewey lined up to take it, with her left foot providing a constant threat on set pieces. However,
instead of setting up others as Dewey has done on her three assists this season, the senior instead went for goal herself. Dewey’s curling effort got just inside the near post and the Mustang defender stationed on the goalpost could not keep it out of the back of the net.
The game remained tied at the halftime break and both teams looked to get that crucial third goal early in the second half. SMU nearly had it when Sammy Nieves got behind the Pirate defense, but her shot caught the Pirate goalpost and went out of bounds. On the other end, an ECU cross found Annabelle Abbott in the SMU box, but her header was right at SMU goalkeeper Samantha Estrada.
That tiebreaking goal unfortunately came in the 63rd minute. Courtney Sebazco stepped up to take a corner kick from the same spot as where Dewey scored in the opening half. Unlike Dewey, Sebazco swung her cross towards the back post. Balata was there waiting and she was able to rise up and direct a header into the top left corner of the goal.
The Pirates struggled to create chances against the Mustangs’ defense, which was ranked second in the AAC in goals allowed during the regular season. East Carolina did have a chance in the 70th minute, but Maycie McDougal’s shot was stopped by Estrada. In the 85th minute, a bouncing cross reached Dewey who was racing down the left wing, but she laced her shot wide of the goal. That was the final shot of the game for ECU with SMU able to close out the victory.
“We want to thank our seniors for all they have done for this program,” added Hamilton. “They have brought this group to a new level and changed the expectations for us. They can hold their heads high knowing they are leaving this place much better than how they found it.”
SMU finished with a 12-6 edge in shots, a 6-4 lead in corner kicks and 52% of the possession. Maeve English made three saves for the Pirates while Estrada also had three stops for the Mustangs.
“For our younger players, we want this to drive them to get better next year,” Hamilton finished. “Just making the conference tournament cannot be good enough.”