Unlike the football team, which planned to be at the FIU-Middle Tennesssee State Sun Belt Conference women's soccer semifinal but got into Mobile late after a two-hour delay in Fort Lauderdale, my flight got me into Mobile ahead of schedule. So, I had a choice -- grab dinner and hit the hotel or race over to catch the last 30 minutes of FIU vs. Middle regulation.
I chose the game. Hope I chose my Lotto numbers as well. It was the kind of finish that would've given the football team an extra bounce that would've stayed with them through Saturday.
Junior Kim Lopez's second goal of the game, 5:34 into sudden death overtime, gave FIU a 2-1 win against Middle Friday night. Lopez's goal, off a feed from Chelsea Leiva after Leiva spun around a Middle defender then drove deep right of the goal to draw the goalkeeper to her, came after the Blue Raiders almost won the game twice late in regulation. Middlle hit the right post on a hopeful long ball and FIU sophomore Marie Egan cleared a header from Regina Thomas off the line in the final minute of regulation. Both teams had back-to-back corner kicks in the last 14 minutes of regulation.
"I saw Chelsea make the run and I was just trying to get to the box, get myself open," Lopez said. "I screamed for it. The ball came kind of bouncy. I took a touch and I tried to lean over it. I struck it well. The goalkeeper (Jessica Gilchrist), the defender was kind of in front of her, blocking her."
FIU hadn't beaten Middle in Chestnutt's six seasons as coach. During the regular season, FIU lost 3-1.
"When we knew Middle was coming up in the regular season game, we knew that was a big game to prove ourselves. Unfortunately, we fell short the first game," freshman defender Jazmin Jones said. "We told ourselves this time, 'we don't care what happened in the past. It doesn't matter anymore. We're coming out here, we're going to win this game and we're going to show them who's better."
Jones said FIU began the game playing balls over the Middle defense because they were playing so high, then shifted to playing to feet on the wings, particularly Lopez ("All Day Kim!" laughed Jones). Working off the left side, Lopez ate up the Middle back line, a tall, broad group that can look lumbering or gawky when dealing with Lopez's shiftiness.
Lopez scored in the first minute, also off an assist from Leiva. Middle got its goal off a penalty kick -- "An absolutely bad call, they actually fouled our keeper," FIU coach Thomas Chestnutt said -- following a hand ball call in the area. Chestnutt acknowledged that Middle had the better of it late in the first half.
"We feel we controlled a large part of the second half," he continued. "The rhythm passing was much better. Chelsea got in on a one-on-one, she hit it right to the keeper, the keeper makes the save. She hits the corner after that, heads it, they make the save. So we had opportunities that were starting to come. Then, late, they got a couple of opportunities. They've got some very dangerous players on their team. The No. 8 (Tori Hawkins), 10 (Kate Loye) and 12 (Paige Goeglein) are fantastic players for them and did a good job tonight.
"We talk about this doing One More -- one more sprint, one more tackle, find one more opportunity," he continued. "Tonight, the ladies did it. It was the first time beating MTSU since I've been here. We've lost every time to them and they've always scored multiple goals."
Now, FIU, the 2011 Sun Belt tournament champions, face top seed North Texas Sunday for the championship and the right to go to the NCAA tournament. When the two teams met in the regular season at North Texas, it ended 1-1.