MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — In its first Sun Belt Tournament Championship game since 2008, the WKU soccer team played the FIU Panthers to a scoreless double-overtime draw Saturday at the Dean A. Hayes Track and Soccer Stadium. However the Lady Toppers would be eliminated for the third straight season on penalty kicks, falling 4-3 in the shootout.
"I'm really proud of our team," said head coach Jason Neidell on WKU's performance Saturday. "We played our best soccer of the season when it mattered most in the second half and the two overtimes. At the end of the day, we just were not able to convert some chances we had. Credit FIU, it was a tale of two halves. They played a real good first half and had some chances, We had some chances and couldn't score. We'd like to have some of those chances back, but that's the nature of the game. I'm really proud of our kids. We had a good season."
FIU (13-6-2) dominated the first-half box score, outshooting WKU (13-6-2) 6-0 in the first half. The Panthers best chance at goal in the first 45 minutes came in the 36th minute. Nicole DiPerna had two shots stopped by Libby Stout inside the 18-yard box as WKU kept the game level, 0-0, going into halftime. The Lady Toppers had a pair of corners in the first half, but could not get a shot on the net of FIU's goalkeeper Kaitlyn Savage.
"We played the game as two halves," said Neidell. "We talked about each half being its own game. We didn't play well in the first half, but we were tied 0-0. We talked about having a new game in front of us, a new 45 and if we wanted the championship we had to go take it."
WKU came out firing to start the second half, taking five shots in the first seven minutes. Chrissy Tchoula took four of those first five shots, with two of them being saved by Savage. Kelsey Meyer also had a chance in the 53rd minute that too was saved by Savage. In the 63rd minute, Amanda Buechel made a run into the 18-yard box and fired a shot at Savage that was stopped. Kaylyn Pratt had an opportunity after a Lady Topper corner in the 75th minute, but her shot didn't have the steam to get past Savage. WKU had one last chance to score in regulation with 2:32 to go, as Outerbridge got into the 18-yard box but Savage made a diving save to keep the game 0-0 going into overtime. The Lady Toppers outshot the Panthers 13-2 in the second half.
"We did great defensively," said Stout, who did not allow a goal in 310 minutes of action in the Sun Belt Tournament. "We stayed stingy and we didn't let anything go by us. We played strong but it just wasn't in the cards for us."
WKU continued to attack the goal in the first overtime. Lindsay Williams had a chance to be the hero in the 93rd minute. The senior midfielder found the ball at her feet at the top of the box, and fired upon net. Savage made a diving save to keep the game scoreless. Outerbridge then had a chance three minutes later but had her shot go over the goal. WKU's all-time goal-scorer had another chance for the championship-winning goal in the 103rd minute. Buechel played a cross to Outerbridge on the far side of the field. Outerbridge attempted to score on the near post but hit the side-netting. The senior had one more chance to score in the 107th minute, firing from just inside the box but right to Savage, forcing penalty jjkicks for a second-straight match.
"We were phenomenal in the second half,"remarked Neidell on his team's second-half effort. "It was probably our best in the entire season. We just couldn't get the ball in the back of the net."
Just as they did Thursday night, the Lady Toppers shot first in the shootout. Junior Ali Stahlke stepped up to the spot and fired on net. Savage guessed wrong, but Stahlke's shot went off the post. FIU then took a 1-0 lead when April Perry scored past Stout. The two teams then traded goals in the next two rounds as Panthers backup goalkeeper Melanie Raimo made the score 3-2. In the fourth round Kiersten Ottaway's attempt was stopped by Savage, opening the door for FIU to win the title on the next kick.
With the match at her foot, FIU's Chelsea Leiva shot over the goal to keep WKU in the shootout. Tchoula, the Lady Toppers' fifth shooter, scored to tie the shootout 3-3. The Panthers' fifth shooter, Johanna Volz, then had a chance to win the tournament. She stepped up and scored to give FIU a 4-3 win in the shootout and the 2011 Sun Belt Soccer Tournament title.
Following the match, WKU had four players named to the Sun Belt All-Tournament Team in Stahlke, Stout, Outerbridge and Meyer. Those four players were named All-Sun Belt earlier in the week. The Lady Toppers finish the 2011 season with a 13-6-3 record, reaching their second Sun Belt Tournament title match in program history.