NACOGDOCHES, Texas — Stephen F. Austin got two goals in the first 30 minutes and that proved to be enough Sunday in a 2-1 Southland Conference win over McNeese State. The victory stretched SFA's unbeaten streak to nine straight games and keeps the Ladyjacks near the top of the Southland standings.
SFA (10-3-1) is one of only two league schools without a conference loss. The Ladyjacks are 3-0-1 in Southland action, with UTSA holding steady at 3-0-0. McNeese falls to 4-9-1 overall and 1-2-1 in league action.
The Ladyjacks pushed the tempo early, earning two corner kick opportunities in the first two minutes. The second one paid dividends. Becky Johnson played the corner short to Laura Sadler. Johnson then swung around behind Sadler and got the ball back near the top right corner of the 18-yard box, where she had a clear look at the goal. Johnson sent a high, left-footed shot into the far corner to put her team ahead, 1-0, at the 2:28 mark. The goal was Johnson's third of the year.
"We were definitely looking to set that up in a few games this year," head coach Tony Amato said. "It's something we've worked on, something we've practiced, and to have Becky pin it in the top corner today was ideal."
SFA banged out four more shots over the next 16 minutes while holding McNeese State without an attempt. Kim Kimmel registered a shot on goal at the 7:16 mark, and Jordan King had a pair of open looks sail just a bit high over the crossbar.
"In the pregame we had talked about getting three clear-cut scoring chances in the first twenty minutes," Amato said. "We felt like we created that and we scored early on. The team had it in their mind to come out and attack early, and they carried that through."
The attacking paid off again in the 30th minute when Kylie Louw scored what proved to be the game-winner. Kimmel worked the ball through traffic in the box and played it ahead to Louw on the right. McNeese goalkeeper Katie Seeber came out to defend, but Louw beat her with a low shot inside the near post to make it a 2-0 game.
"We love the way Ky and Kimmel combine," Amato said. "It was just a matter of time before it got pulled off in a game. They had a couple [of chances early] that, fair play to McNeese, they broke up. But finally they combined on one. Ky did an excellent job of getting behind them, and when she's one-on-one with the 'keeper, you can bet that she's going to bury that for us."
The goal celebration was cut short, though, as McNeese found the net just 16 seconds after Louw's goal. The Cowgirls pushed the ball ahead quickly on the restart, and Hannah Hopson fed teammate Macie Jones to the right of the six-yard box. SFA 'keeper Courtney Bauder came out to make a play, but Jones fired a shot that went off her hands and bounced off the far post. It landed near the end line, and Kelli Barnes tried to keep it out, but the shot bounced in to make it a 2-1 game.
The shot was the Cowgirls' second of the game and their first on goal.
"It's something we're emphasizing that we want to make sure we don't let teams get very many shots," Amato said. When they do, we want Baudy to be able to make a save for us. Even the goal today, she got a hand on it and almost kept it out of the net. Kelli had her back there and tried to clear it off the line. Unfortunately that didn't happen, but overall we're happy with only giving up one goal today."
Bauder (9-3-1) saw two more shots on goal in the contest and knocked both down with sprawling saves. The first came later in the opening period, while the second was recorded after halftime.
SFA took 13 shots after the break with five on goal, but Seeber kept them all out. She finished with nine saves, tying for the second-highest total recorded by an opposing goalkeeper this season.
In all, the Ladyjacks outshot McNeese, 27-7, with an 11-3 edge in shots on goal.
Louw's goal was her sixth this season, moving her into a tie with King for the team lead. The game-winner was the fourth of her career — third this season — and she has now amassed 38 points in two seasons, making her seventh on the SFA career list.
The Ladyjacks become the first team in the Southland to get to 10 wins this season and have now reached double digits in the victory column for the second year in a row and the eighth time in program history.
SFA will play its next three contests on the road. The Ladyjacks travel to Louisiana next weekend to take on Nicholls and Southeastern Louisiana, then play at Sam Houston State on Oct. 22.
"We know it's going to be tough, and it's still awfully early," Amato said. "We like being at the top of the league but there's a long way to go and we know a lot of things can happen. We're going to stay focused, we're going to keep working to get better. We're happy with our progress so far, but we know we've still got some things to clean up, and hopefully we'll win this thing this year."