Oct. 26, 2007
VILLANOVA, Pa. - It may very well become the case that a dramatic game-winning goal late in the second and final overtime period served as the impetus to lift Villanova (9-3-6, 3-3-4 Big East) into a spot in next week's BIG EAST Championship. The Wildcats netted the only goal of the game on a tally by sophomore Erin Byrnes (Sayville, N.Y.) with just 2:46 remaining in the second overtime period to defeat Louisville (11-4-2, 6-3-1 Big East) by a 1-0 final at the West Campus Soccer Complex on Friday afternoon.
For the second straight week Villanova opened a home weekend in a cold, driving rain and this time came away with its first overtime victory of the season in its seventh overtime game of the year. After six ties, the Wildcats showcased one of their finest all-around efforts of the season and were rewarded with a win that provides three critical points to a team in the midst of a playoff race in the BIG EAST National Division.
The goal came about on a pass by junior Erin Hardiman (Galloway, N.J.) along the back line that Byrnes chipped in from directly in front of the net. The play leading up to Hardiman's pass was a fair representation of the team-oriented game that Villanova exhibited from start to finish. Senior goalkeeper Jillian Loyden (Vineland, N.J.) sent a long ball out of Wildcat territory that was played by sophomore Kelly Eagan (St. James, N.Y.) to Hardiman along the back line to the right of the net.
The game matched up the top two defensive teams in the conference in terms of goals-against average. Both teams turned in an outstanding defensive effort on a slick field caused by the persistent rain. Villanova got the better of the offensive chances by way of a 16-14 advantage in shots. Meanwhile, the team's defensive unit was in top form and showed why the Wildcats have surrendered only 10 goals all season long.
Eagan and fellow central defender Laura Sylvester (Broomall, Pa.) were active as usual in the middle of the attacking third but the play of senior left back Jenna Gordon (White Plains, N.Y.) and senior right back Kayce Blandford (Columbia, Md.) was particularly impressive as Villanova came away with a win with its backs nearly against the wall for a playoff bid.
Loyden made five saves in goal for the Wildcats to earn her 46th career victory and eighth this season. Due to a fluke occurrence just prior to kickoff, Loyden was actually not in the game at the outset. Sophomore Molly Williams (Hinsdale, Ill.) played the first 12:35 of the contest and made three saves before Loyden was able to enter and play the final 94:39 in her usual spot.
Cardinal goalkeeper Joanna Haig, who began the day as the only BIG EAST goalkeeper ranked ahead of Loyden in goals-against average and save percentage, made seven saves for Louisville.
The scoring for the afternoon almost got off to an immediate start as senior Kaley Guthrie (Ogdensburg, N.J.) got off two shots in the opening 45 seconds of play from just in front of the goal. Her first was saved by Haig and a rebound attempt bounced on the ground and up into the crossbar before continuing out of bounds. That led to the only corner kick of the game for Villanova, but the Cardinals cleared the ball away.
Just a few minutes later Louisville had taken five unanswered shots and generated a few corner kicks of its own, but both teams then settled into the rhythm of the game and the difficult playing conditions. The Wildcats took the final seven shots of the first half and the Cardinals owned a slim 7-5 edge in shots over the second 45 minutes. Loyden had four saves in the second half of regulation and one in the first overtime period to keep Louisville off the scoreboard.
Villanova now has just one regular season game remaining and will host Cincinnati on Sunday at 1 p.m. in a game that should be played in much drier conditions. It will be Senior Day at the West Campus Soccer Complex as seven graduates-to-be will play their final regular season home games.
This afternoon's victory temporarily lifts the Wildcats into sole possession of fourth place in the National Division standings, although that could chance as quickly as later this evening pending the outcome of several evening games. Those games and the full schedule of games on Sunday mean that there are still numerous ways that the standings can play out before regular season play wraps up. It is likely that either a win or a tie by Villanova on Sunday against Cincinnati would enable the team to clinch a conference tournament spot for the seventh consecutive season. The top five teams in each division qualify for the BIG EAST Championship.
NOTES: Villanova is guaranteed to finish with a winning record this season and now needs just one more victory to have both a winning record and at least 10 victories for a ninth consecutive season ... The game-winning goal by Byrnes was her first this season and the third of her career ... It was her fourth goal of the year overall and moves her into a tie with senior Nikki Mabery (Phoenix, Ariz.) for the team lead with 13 points ... Mabery has a team-best five goals along with three assists, while Byrnes has four goals and five helpers ... The Wildcats snapped a scoreless streak of 428:51 with the game-winning goal ... Villanova's last goal came in the second half of a 1-0 victory at DePaul on October 12 ... The seven overtime games are one short of the team record of eight set in 2003 ... The six ties this season are already the most in a single-season in team history ... The Wildcats incredibly are now unbeaten in their last 100 games (95-0-5) when they score the first goal of a game ... This was only the eighth time in school history that Villanova has won a game in double overtime or later, and the first double-overtime win since a 1-0 triumph over LSU last season on September 10, 2006 ... Villanova is 3-0 all-time against Louisville, including a pair of 1-0 victories in the last two seasons and a pair of overtime wins at the West Campus Soccer Complex ... The first was a 3-2 win in overtime on October 9, 2005.