Penalty kicks send Rockets to next round of MAC tourney
YPSILANTI, Mich. -- It took 120 minutes and five penalty kicks but the No. 6 seed Toledo Rockets captured a thrilling victory over the No. 3 seed Eastern Michigan Eagles on Sunday.
With ice water colder than the frigid air in her veins, junior forward Rachel MacLeod slammed home the game winning shot in the fifth round of penalty kicks.
“I just kept telling myself ‘you got this’,” MacLeod said. “Just try to stay calm; you’ve done this so many times in practice. It’s not a big deal.”
“It hasn’t been easy but this is probably the most cohesive we have been all year,” said UT head coach Brad Evans. “This team really needed something like this. I’m really proud of the kids, they did a great job today.”
The Rockets (8-11-1, 5-5-1 MAC) opened up the scoring in the 10th minute when senior midfielder Kristen Mattei scored off an assist from MacLeod.
Eastern Michigan (11-7-1, 8-3-0 MAC) responded in the 36th minute when Stephanie Clarke redirected a pass with a header into the back of the net.
The second half saw no score for either team, leaving the game tied 1-1, but UT dominated with 11 shots to the Eagles four. Toledo’s offensive pressure did not result in a goal, but kept the Eagles on their heels, forcing goalkeeper Jenna O’Dell to make four saves.
UT kept the same game plan in the first round of overtime, out shooting Eastern Michigan 5-0. The Rockets had opportunities to take the lead, including a near goal from freshman Angelica Hernandez.
Still tied after the first overtime, the teams switched sides and started double OT.
With the wind now at their backs, EMU saw a golden opportunity to score. Forward Angela Vultaggio managed to work behind the entire defensive line and found herself one-on-one with freshman goalie Sam Tiongson. Tiongson held her ground and Vultaggio sailed her shot over the goal and behind the net.
“I thought Sam did a good job because I thought she was going to come out and then she back peddled and held her ground and waited patiently, which is a tough thing for a goalkeeper to do,” Evans said. “I thought she made herself big enough and put it on the player.”
With the score still tied at one, the teams entered a shootout.
Sophomore goalie Kelsey Borowitz stepped in between the posts for penalty kicks but was unsuccessful at stopping EMU’s Stephanie Clarke who put her shot in the lower left corner of the net. Senior Natalia Gaitan kicked first for UT but had her shot toward the lower left corner blocked by O'Dell.
In the second round, the Eagles' Molli Krick’s shot sailed wide left but Mattei was able to convert her attempt to equal the score at 1-1.
Both teams were unsuccessful in rounds three and four, as EMU's Bianca Rossi's shot was blocked by Borowitz, and UT senior Megan Blake hit the right crossbar. The Eagles’ Marisa Kozikowski's shot hit the right post and Toledo sophomore Alexis Tice had her shot at the right corner blocked by O'Dell.
In the fifth and final round, the Eagles' Cara Cutaia aimed for the upper right corner, but went wide of the net setting the stage for MacLeod's match-winning kick.
“These are the moments that make Rachel who she is,” Evans said. “That’s why we put her at number five because she was going to be ready to take that kick and she was going to want that moment.”
It turned out to be a pretty big deal. While the regular season wasn’t exactly impressive, the Rockets are peaking at the right time. They are the lowest seeded team still in the tournament and Evans knows this is the time to step up.
“What we talk about all year is the conference tournament,” Evans said. “The regular season is important too but it is not as important as the conference tournament is to us.”
Toledo finished with an impressive 25-14 edge in kicks, as well as a 7-4 edge in corner kicks. Tiongson was between the posts for the first 110 minutes, recording 4 saves before Borowitz came in to help the Rockets in the shootout.
UT will face the No. 2 seed Central Michigan on Friday.
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