In the 75th minute of the Binghamton women’s soccer team’s final home game, with the match tied at two, the Bearcats found themselves in their most pressing moment of their 2017 regular season. After falling quickly to a 2-0 deficit, Hartford clawed back when the game became more gritty. Hartford sophomore forward Kaila Lozada was on a breakaway, poised to take a commanding 3-2 lead, until she was tackled by sophomore defender Sam O’Malley, who drew both a foul on the play, with a penalty kick awarded to the Hawks.
“It was unfortunate,” said BU head coach Neel Bhattacharjee. “I’ll take a look at the call. I thought Sam did well in a rough moment, but that’s the nature of the game.”
Called upon to save the game on her senior day, goalkeeper Katie Hatziyianis entirely reversed momentum, diving to her left and snatching the ball before it snuck in the goal’s lower corner. Her play proved to be integral in the Bearcats’ 3-2 overtime victory. The win earned Binghamton a bye in the upcoming America East (AE) Tournament, and with New Hampshire dropping its final game, the Bearcats clinched a share of the AE regular-season title — the program’s first since 2004.
“I don’t think I’ve seen everything and the kitchen sink thrown at one team like it was today, but it didn’t matter,” Bhattacharjee said. “[Hatziyianis] is a monster when it comes to [saving penalty kicks]. We felt really good, even in that moment, that she’s capable of coming up with that big time, critical save. That’s the sign of a big-time goalkeeper.”
The Bearcats began the game dominantly, moving the ball swiftly and keeping possession for extended periods of time. Freshman forward Genna Michitti recorded her third goal of the season, and freshman midfielder Dora Hayes doubled Binghamton’s lead just two minutes later. Up 2-0 just 10 minutes into the game, BU appeared poised to run away with its final regular-season match. Hartford answered quickly, however, and scored in the 15th minute. Following a hectic opening, the match’s pace slowed significantly as each team defended more physically and attacked more deliberately with fewer passes.
“That physical side, that grit side, that’s something you gotta contend with in the America East,” Bhattacharjee said. “It’s a good soccer playing conference, but it’s a physical one too. We’ve got players that are tough and gritty, which we absolutely needed.”
While the game dragged on, Hartford buried its equalizing goal in the opening minute of the second half. However, after failing to capitalize on its penalty kick, Hartford’s offense stagnated entirely, failing to take a shot for the remainder of the game. Down one player, Binghamton struggled to create opportunities, with Hartford freshman goalkeeper Maia Perez grabbing numerous attempted crosses out of the air. The offensive droughts continued through the end of regulation, forcing overtime with the score tied at two.
“We had one less forward,” Bhattacharjee said. “We had to go a little more direct, but it actually worked out in our favor.”
Nearly four minutes into overtime, Binghamton created its game-winning chance. Redshirt junior forward Kayla Saager used an array of moves to advance the ball from midfield to the box, earning a corner kick. Saager lofted the ball just out of Perez’s reach, and freshman defender Erin Theiller volleyed it into the back of the net, securing an exceptionally hard-fought victory.
“As a staff, we’ve actually looked at our corner kicks,” Bhattacharjee said. “We had 105 corners before this game, and we were only able to get two goals off of it … [Theiller’s goal] made up for all of them.”
The goal was Theiller’s first of her Binghamton career, and her work in practice prepared her for this exact moment.
“Just the other day in practice, I scored off a corner and [one of my coaches] was like, ‘Why can’t you do that in the game?’ [Doing it in a game] feels amazing,” Theiller said.
Binghamton’s next game will be the AE semifinal against the winner of Hartford and Vermont. Kickoff from the Bearcats Sports Complex in Vestal, New York is expected at 1 p.m on Sunday, Oct. 29.