On Sunday afternoon, the Binghamton women’s soccer team walked into the Bearcats Sports Complex tied for first place in the America East (AE). Ninety minutes and nine goals later, BU knocked off UMass Lowell 5-4 in the team’s penultimate regular season match.
“There was always a response when we faced a moment of adversity,” said Binghamton head coach Neel Bhattacharjee. “A goal down and came right back. We had a response every single time, and we gritted it out in the end … This is a big, big result for us, we’ll take the three points. Just can’t be any prouder of his team.”
The tone was set early by the River Hawks (7-6-3, 4-2-1 AE) as they peppered the woodwork, just missing the posts on their first two attempts. In the fifth minute, however, BU (8-5-3, 5-1-1 AE) challenged a racing River Hawk down the field. Suddenly, the only one between the River Hawk and the net was senior goalkeeper Nicole Scott. Scott came out to press the striker, but the ball snuck past her and UMass Lowell opened up the scoring.
“I wasn’t sure if this is going to be like a tight 1-0 defensive stalemate type of game due to the organization of both teams, or if it was gonna be more of a wide-open game,” Bhattacharjee said. “Obviously ended up being the latter.”
In the sixth minute, BU earned a corner kick that junior defender Lexi Vegoda skied in the box. The River Hawks got the initial two hits before senior forward Maya Anand went for a shot through contact, but was unable to cleanly hit the ball. However, it did find junior midfielder Molly McClelland, who hit a one-timer straight over everyone, curling past the goaltender’s outstretched arms and tying the game up at one.
“[McClelland] did her role,” Bhattacharjee said. “She pulled out a defender and then was there for a follow-up on the rebound. Just proud of her for getting her first career goal, one of the important moments in today’s match. So excited for her to have that opportunity.”
Less than three minutes later, sophomore forward Peyton Gilmore wrestled for the ball, coming clear to the right of the net, and fired a screamer to the far side of the pipes. UMass Lowell made a diving save, but did not haul it in completely as senior midfielder Olivia McKnight rebounded and slid into the ball past another defender to score and take the lead.
“We work so hard trying to get where we are and everyone’s pushing,” O. McKnight said. “The bench is screaming their heads off the whole time to lift us up. That’s what pushes me and I know it pushes the other girls, and I’m just so excited.”
The game quieted down until the 28th minute when the River Hawks cut a through ball into the 18-yard-box that reached a UMass Lowell striker, who found the upper 90 for an equalizer. It took all of 54 seconds for the Bearcats to regain the lead, however, as the away side failed to clear the ball and O. McKnight gathered the ball and shot it, connecting with twine to take a 3-2 advantage.
“It’s just taking my opportunities and not putting pressure on myself and just having fun,” O. McKnight said. “That’s when the results come and the goals come as well.”
Just over a minute into the second half, Gilmore saved the ball from falling past the backline and raised it into a crowd — where UMass Lowell bumped it into the air. O. McKnight contained the ball and was tightly contested as she sidestepped and fired to the far post, earning her first career hat trick.
“My coaches have been telling me ‘shoot, shoot, shoot’ because I dribble too much,” O. McKnight said. “But I was just getting open shots and then shooting them. Then at halftime, everyone was messing around like, ‘you need a hat trick, you need a hat trick’ and then first seconds of the [half], I just had an open shot and I took it again.”
The Bearcats’ lead shrunk to one in the 70th minute as a corner kick was deflected right in front of the woodwork and the River Hawks just had to tap it in to make it 4-3. Though the Bearcats’ persistence remained, and seven minutes later, Vegoda lined up for a penalty kick and sniped the top corner of the net to go back up by two. Over a minute later, the River Hawks made it a one-goal match with a low-line drive into the net.
The away side continued to pressure for the final 12 minutes, but the Bearcats didn’t crack and junior midfielder Victoria McKnight kicked the ball out as regulation ended. With this win, BU clinches home field advantage in round one of the playoffs and is currently tied with UNH and Maine at the top of the conference.
“I’m just so proud of this team to do this big match to solidify the hold on first place,” Bhattacharjee said. “[We] have an opportunity to play for a conference regular season title coming up on Thursday, [with] what’s gonna be another tough match at UMBC.”
BU concludes its regular season at UMBC on Thursday, Oct. 27. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. at Retriever Soccer Park in Baltimore, Maryland.