By Dylan Vazzano, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – A dramatic second-half score and another lights out defensive showing proved to be just the trick to lead the Tennessee Tech soccer team to a title. By virtue of a 1-0 win Thursday night against Morehead State, the Golden Eagles will hoist the regular-season crown for just the second time in program history and first since 1998.
Bailey Taylor scored in the 74th minute to break the scoreless affair and ultimately propel the purple and gold to glory. By clinching the regular-season championship, the Golden Eagles (7-4-4, 5-0-2 OVC) picked up the OVC Tournament No. 1 seed and will receive a double-bye straight to the semifinals, which will now be hosted by TTU in Cookeville.
"What an unbelievable night for our program, our university and our athletic department," Golden Eagle head coach Steve Springthorpe said. "It has been a long time since Tech soccer has had a conference championship. I am so proud of our team and excited for what's coming up for our group over the next couple of weeks.
"It's honestly kind of hard to explain right now," Springthorpe continued. "You walk off the field and think of how hard you have worked over the years. You think of the players that have been here before this day over the last several years and how much they wanted us to be successful, and now to finally get to this point just means an awful lot to our program. Our players are so excited right now. Over the last couple of weeks they just chipped away and chipped away. They brought their best night in and night out, defended hard and found goals to put us in a position to get to this place."
Scoreless late in the second half, Macy Carter set up for a free kick from well outside the box that caromed through traffic and toward Taylor. With an opportunity to put the Golden Eagles ahead, Taylor seized the chance with a bullet into the back of the net for her third score of the season and second in as many matches.
"Bailey has been scrappy the last couple of games and found a way to put it into the back of the net," Springthorpe said. "She had a big goal and an assist for us last game and now to do this tonight for us was huge. Bailey has been playing awesome and I am just so happy for her. It's been a tough season for her at times with being in and out of the lineup, but when her opportunity came she played liked a senior and helped carry us over the last couple of games."
Taylor led the match with four shots, all of them on-frame.
Defensively, TTU handed the Eagles (7-5-3, 4-1-2) their first conference loss of the year thanks in large part to limiting MSU to only four shots to tie for Tech's second-lowest output allowed all year. Morehead State took three shots on-goal, including a dramatic attempt by Kate Larbes as time expired that Maggie Conrad smacked away for her third and final save of the evening. Conrad and company have now picked up six clean sheets in seven OVC affairs.
"I am happy for our fans tonight," Springthorpe noted. "It was an unbelievable showing by them. We had an amazing crowd and to see all of those people that came out and cheered us on to see us win a championship is something I will remember for a long time."
Erin Gibbs stopped eight shots in-net in her attempt to slow down an efficient Golden Eagle attack that saw the purple and gold produce nine shots on-goal in 12 total attempts.
With one match remaining in the regular season, Tech will look to become the first OVC team since UT Martin in 2018 to roll out an undefeated conference slate. TTU will head to Little Rock for a Sunday afternoon battle that is scheduled to begin at noon CT.
The Golden Eagles will then set their sights on semifinal hosting responsibilities in the OVC Tournament after receiving a double-bye that puts them two wins away from a tourney title and NCAA Tournament appearance. The semifinals in Cookeville are set for Friday, Nov. 4. The championship match will take place on Sunday, Nov. 6.
"We still have one more game in the regular season with a match Sunday against a good, scrappy Little Rock team and we need to go down there and play as well as we possibly can," Springthorpe said. "But looking into the future, we will have a couple of weeks and getting that double bye is great for our team. It will give us a chance to rest some people when that time comes and get us prepared for whoever we are facing in the tournament. It is awesome that we can play on our home field, every time we have made it to the semifinals over the last several seasons we have had to go on the road and that's tough. We are excited that we are going to be home and are excited that our fans can come out and watch us."
Photo by Jim Dillon