CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. - Holding the 2-1 lead at the half, the Belmont women's soccer team held off Murray State in the final 45 minutes to advance to the OVC Championship match with a win in the OVC Semifinals on Friday afternoon at Houck Stadium.
Belmont becomes the first No. 6 seed to advance to the OVC Championship match since 2015.
"Getting to the OVC Championship reinforces the fact that even though the season did not start the way we wanted, we never strayed away from who we were," head coach Heather Henson said. "We stayed the course, kept winning the moment and trusting the process and truly being a family and going through it together. I'm ecstatic for the team because they get to reap the rewards of everything we've preached."
Murray State struck first six minutes into the match, with 2019 OVC Offensive Player of the Year Miyah Watford getting the first goal off the assist from All-OVC First Team Abby Jones. With UT Martin scoring on Belmont five minutes into the quarterfinals, the Bruins were not rattled.
Six minutes later, senior Kameron Ziesig kicked a ball towards the head of Rachel Vernon off a corner kick. The 2019 All-Conference defender knocked the ball in the back of the net, tying the match 1-1.
"(Getting the tying goal) was an exhilarating feeling and just a feeling of 'this is us,'" Vernon said. "This is a family that is united as one and we're in this together no matter what. We're committed to the journey and embracing every single moment."
Murray State looked to take the lead off a penalty kick one minute later, Belmont's first look at a penalty kick all year, but Jones missed it high to keep the score tied. In the 28th minute, Julie Garst placed a ball in front of Niki Clements for a one-on-one opportunity. Clements beat the defender, allowing her to put the ball in the back of the net for Belmont's 2-1 lead.
With Belmont only collecting five shots in the match, the Bruins relied on their defense to get the job done for the final 62 minutes. After senior goalkeeper Lily Herman collected a save in the 59th minute, she snagged another in the 71st minute to keep Belmont out in front.
"It starts with the forwards and the whole team putting in a defensive effort," Herman said. "We did an amazing job. By staying organized and communicating off the ball and working off the ball, it makes our defensive efforts so much easier. We really held them and Murray State is an amazing team."
The Racers kept pressing offensively, collecting three shots on goal in the final 10 minutes. Herman, however, leaped into the air to knock the ball out of the goal area in the 82nd minute and collect two more saves that allowed Belmont to claim the victory.
Herman finished with 11 saves on the night, marking the second time in the last three matches where she recorded double digit saves.
"Being in the situation of being down before and coming out with the win, it gives us confidence that even if that happens, we don't need to panic," Henson said. "There were so many defensive plays tonight out of sheer will and desire and perseverance that did not allow the ball to go in the back of the net. I'm just so proud of this team."
Belmont looks to secure the automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament in the OVC Championship on Sunday, playing the winner of SIUE and SEMO at 2 p.m.