RUSTON, La. – The Aggies magical season has come to an end after a true heavyweight title bout between a pair of programs amid their inaugural Conference USA seasons. After 90 extremely hard-fought minutes, NM State suffered its first defeat at the hands of a CUSA opponent this season as Liberty scored the game-winning goal in the 86th minute of the CUSA Championship game.
The Aggies fell behind early, however, fought back to pull even before the two teams headed into the break. In the second half, the potent Liberty offensive attack continued to pressure the back line of the Aggies’ defense which came up big time and time again. Unfortunately, the Flames eventually pushed through to earn the CUSA title.
Offensively, the Aggies lone goal scorer was Gia Valenti for the second straight game as the senior scored her third goal of the tournament. Valenti also paced the Aggies in shots on goal with two. Meanwhile, Megan Ormson, Mya Gonzalez and Loma McNeese also placed shots on frame. Additionally, the all-freshman keeper Valerie Guha came up with 10 saves across 90 minutes in goals.
The Aggies’ offense immediately applied pressure as Valenti’s first shot on target came in just the fourth minute of play. However, Liberty goalie Ainsley Leja saved the shot to her left.
Moments later, Ormson also forced Leja to be sharp as she sent one to the bottom right corner of the goal, but the Flames’ goalie logged her second save of the game in the 10th minute of action.
Guha’s first save would come in the 13th minute, but the next shot that the freshman would face would be a tough one to keep out as it came from the penalty spot. After NM State committed a penalty inside the 18-yard box, Rachel DeRuby scored the game’s first goal to put Liberty ahead 1-0 in the 19th minute.
Later, the Aggies would find the equalizer as Brooke Schultz sent a ball into the box that got headed into the air multiple times before falling at the feet of Gia Valenti who rocketed a shot into the top left corner of the goal.
The Aggies’ first chance at a game-winner came in the 58th minute when Loma McNeese found space at the top of the box and fired a shot that the Flames’ keeper had to punch over the top of the goal.
From there, the Aggies’ real opportunities were limited, however Liberty placed four shots on goal, including one from Saydie Holland in the 86th minute that broke the plane of the goal line and gave Liberty the edge.
NUMBERS OF NOTE
- CUSA All-Freshman goalkeeper Valerie Guha recorded a career-best ten saves, bringing her season total to 53 in 14 games, along with six shutouts on the year – tied for second most in a career in NM State history.
- After scoring just three goals during the 17-game regular season, Gia Valenti tallied three goals in the Aggies two CUSA Tournament games.
- Three Aggies were named to the CUSA All-Tournament Team as Gia Valenti, Xitlaly Hernandez and Loma McNeese were each honored as three of the top performers at the postseason tournament.
- The loss to Liberty marks the first time that NM State dropped a match to a CUSA opponent since becoming members, going 6-0-2 through the regular season and knocking off Sam Houston 2-0 in the semifinals.
- The two-goal performance from the Liberty offense marked the first time an Aggie opponent scored two or more goals since Sept. 24 when Middle Tennessee did so in a 3-2 loss.
- NM State fired just nine shots on Sunday to mark the first time since Oct. 8 that they did not attempt at least 10 shots.
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