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UB Bulls Women's Soccer: Buffalo tops Ball State 2-1 in Friday MAC Semifinal Win

A rocket goal from Sophomore Andrea Niper in the 108th minute propelled UB Women's Soccer team to new ground: the first MAC Final in program history.

Mark Gritzmacher

Six days ago, sophomore Andrea Niper had zero career goals despite frequent minutes this season as a midfield sub for Coach Shawn Burke and the UB Women's Soccer team.

Five days ago Niper converted a feed from Alex Lambert for her first career goal, giving UB an icing-on-the-cake 2-0 lead over Toledo in the MAC Quarterfinal.

Sixty minutes ago, Niper blasted a shot from 25 yards into the upper right corner of the Ball State net to propel the Bulls into their first-ever MAC Championship Game. It is - to date - the biggest goal in program history, hit so hard that it pulled the net around itself, hanging in the air as if to give Bulls fans longer to celebrate.

Before Buffalo dismantled Miami on a Sunday afternoon and overcame a surprising early goal in the regular season finaleagainst Akron, Ball State gave the Bulls everything they could handle in the regular season. At the time the #1 seed in the MAC was still in doubt, and Buffalo needed a penalty kick in the first overtime to dispatch the Cardinals. Ball State was by far the toughest test UB had faced in the MAC, even though they fell 4-1 to Miami in their season finale.

Tonight, the two highest remaining seeds in the tournament battled once again to overtime, before Niper ended it in the 108th minute. On that Friday night two weeks ago, Ball State weathered a back-and-forth first half before converting a penalty kick in the 44th minute to become just the second team all season to take a first-half lead on the Bulls. Tonight, it was more of the same as expected, though Buffalo definitely had the better of the Cardinals en route to what I thought was their strongest first half of the last two weeks.

BSU managed just one shot on goal in the first, consistently derailed by Second Team All-MAC defender Sophie Therien and MAC Defensive Player of the Year Jackie Hall. At the other end, Julia Benati and Celina Carrero continued their strong play of late, getting consistent chances in the final third, though UB's best chance of the first came when Katie Roberts, unable to get a shot through traffic, fed it back to Courtney Mann only for the shot to fly just wide.

After the break, UB got exactly what the doctor ordered, taking the lead off a free kick at just 47'. Before and after the goal, Ball State's tall back line was able to consistently snuff out UB crosses and passes, but senior Megan Giesen was able to perfectly weight a floating ball into the box, which was painfully headed onto the framework before Jackie Hall, who scored the overtime game-winner against Akron, found it and put it home.

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Hall spends most of her time on UB's ferocious backline, but the converted midfielder is dangerous on set pieces: all three of her goals this season have come off free or corner kicks.

With the lead it certainly looked like UB was preparing to close out the game with their signature sleeper hold defense: Ball State had gotten just one shot on net in the first half and couldn't build much of a counterpunch after the goal as Carrero and Benati came terribly close to scoring over the next ten minutes.

In the MAC Postseason Awards announced yesterday, Carrero was named Second Team All-MAC and Benati to the All-MAC Freshman team. Neither have scored in some time, but are both playing their best soccer of the year as the minutes get more important.

Ball State was able to tie the game in the 60th minute, forcing a leaping save by Buffalo keeper Laura Dougall on a point-blank shot. Unfortunately for UB, Dougall got enough of the ball to keep it in play, and was unable to corral the high rebound as it came back to earth. Ball State's Elaina Musleh capitalized on the loose ball and tied the game.

What followed was a near-repeat of UB's response to Ball State's goal two weeks ago. The Bulls overwhelmed their opponent for twenty minutes, coming desperately close to reclaiming the lead on four or five occasions. Rachel Cook, a sub who has seen more and more time in recent weeks, was able to speed down the sideline and create corner kicks, but UB's set pieces frequently fell apart without a strong challenge in the box and crosses sailed into a scoring area without anybody in white having made a run.

Two golden chances didn't go UB's way in the final five minutes: a free kick was cleared off the line, and Katie Roberts couldn't get a call after falling down while receiving a feed in the box from Celina Carrero. UB headed to overtime for the third time in five games. At the end of regulation Ball State had just four shots on goal - two coming in the run up to their goal - and zero corner kicks. Buffalo had enjoyed all of the chances, and were unlucky both to have surrendered a single goal and to have only scored once themselves.

Ball State did nothing in overtime. Both the first ten-minute period and the eight minutes of the second overtime were all Blue and White and spent almost entirely in the BSU end. Once again UB found the post on a set piece, but nobody was able to clear it in. Minutes later Roberts - who played strangely low into the midfield all game - had an open shot from twelve yards away and simply flubbed it.

Ball State couldn't generate any pressure, but their height in the back continued to neutralize more dangerous UB chances. By now we know what to expect from Coach Burke's defense, but Ball State, with some luck, was able to match UB tonight, even if they were called upon more frequently.

Just two minutes from penalty kicks, Andrea Niper struck. Her shot, which was strikingly similar to Kassidy Kidd's game-tying score against Akron, looked to be sailing wide left, as had a number of UB chances in the second overtime, but instead hit the back of the net and wrapped around the supporting post. The biggest goal in program history.

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With the win, UB advances to the MAC Championship game for the first time in their third semifinal appearance and is now 4-7 all time in the MAC Tournament. On their own turf the team maintains their undefeated home and conference marks in 2014.

The Championship game on Sunday at NOON will feature UB and the winner of NIU-WMU, who are playing now. Both teams pulled road upsets in the first round to advance to the semifinals.

Go Bulls!