The path to the playoffs in any sport is never easy. Just ask the Binghamton women’s soccer team. After an undefeated stretch of six straight games earlier this season, the Bearcats entered Sunday’s matchup against UMass Lowell (4-9-2, 3-3-1 America East) without a win in nearly a month.
But thanks to junior midfielder Sarah Dibble’s goal and some gutsy defensive stops, BU ended its losing streak with a 1-0 victory. The win also means that Binghamton (9-5-2, 3-3-1 AE) has clinched a spot in next weekend’s AE tournament.
“It’s a great feeling to get three points on the road against a good UMass Lowell team and to qualify for the postseason,” said BU head coach Neel Bhattacharjee. “Hopefully this game gets us on a roll in the most critical time.”
Binghamton’s goal came in the 22nd minute after junior midfielder Ivana Pjetri’s free kick bounced off the hands of Lowell redshirt junior goalkeeper Lauren Huff. BU junior defender Erin Theiller took the rebound and crossed it in front of the goal where Dibble volleyed the pass into the back of the net. Dibble now has three goals this season.
“With it being a pretty wet day, we knew that there was a chance for rebounds and that’s pretty much what the case was,” Bhattacharjee said. “Dibble was where she needed to be. Like any goal scorer, she has that instinct to be at the right place at the right time and then she’s there to put it away.”
While the rain-soaked field produced less than ideal playing conditions, the Bearcats played an all-around solid game. The offense put pressure on UMass Lowell’s defense and entered halftime with five corner kicks and a 5-1 shots advantage.
“I thought we had pretty good control of the match in the first half,” Bhattacharjee said. “We played with good rhythm and tempo and we certainly deserved to reward ourselves with the goal at that point.”
Binghamton’s defense complemented the offense. The unit was forced to hold the slim lead while being down a player toward the end of the game after a red card was issued to Theiller in the 76th minute. Theiller was carded when she saved a breakaway but made too much contact with a UMass Lowell player.
“The replay showed that she did get a touch on the ball,” Bhattacharjee said. “I think it was a great tackle and the referee just saw it a little bit differently and that’s unfortunate.”
At that point, Bhattacharjee substituted junior midfielder Olivia Price into the game and dropped more players deeper in the midfield to counter UMass Lowell’s increased attack.
The coach seemed impressed with Price’s outing. He said that Price made a couple of key tackles while being in the difficult position of only entering in the final minutes of such a close game.
The star of the match, however, may have been junior goalkeeper Mackenzie Hanna. On route to her first shutout of the season (and the team’s seventh), Hanna made key plays to shut down UML’s scoring threats. In the 70th minute, Hanna prevented a corner kick from going in with a diving save that knocked the ball out of bounds up field. Fortunately for the Bearcats, the savvy play resulted in a UMass Lowell throw-in rather than a corner.
“[UMass Lowell] had three [corner kicks] today, so we saw how dangerous they can be,” Bhattacharjee said. “It was a good play by [Hanna] and heads-up to not give up a corner but a throw-in instead. We overall had more of an easier time to defend that.”
Bhattacharjee said Sunday’s win boiled down to the team finally being rewarded after playing well in recent games but not having the wins to show for it.
“We knew if we continued to bring that effort then things would turn positive,” he said. “That’s certainly the case today. We played well on the ball. We defended hard.”
With one game left in the season before the AE tournament kicks off next weekend, Binghamton may be hitting its stride at the perfect time. Bhattacharjee said his team’s good spirit, focus and determination has led to its resilient nature.
“[The Binghamton players] know we are a dangerous team and that we can play anyone in the America East,” Bhattacharjee said.
Next up for Binghamton is its regular-season finale, a 7 p.m. matchup against UMBC on Thursday, Oct. 31 at the Bearcat Sports Complex in Vestal, New York.