WKU’s Sun Belt tournament run ends after MTSU wins shootout

Junior goalkeeper Libby Stout gets up after missing a penalty kick against MTSU on Thursday. After a 1-1 tie through regulation and two overtimes, WKU lost the game 4-3 in penalty kicks.

M. Blake Harrison

Head Coach Jason Neidell said all season that he wanted the Lady Toppers to play their best soccer when it counted.

After WKU’s Sun Belt Conference semi-final defeat Thursday night, he said his team did exactly that.

The sixth-seeded Lady Toppers (9-8-3, 6-5 Sun Belt) took second-seeded Middle Tennessee (13-8-1, 9-2 Sun Belt) to the wire before falling in a sudden-death shootout, 4-3.

Neidell said WKU is all too familiar with the feeling because it was knocked out of last year’s tournament in the same fashion.

“It’s really disappointing,” Neidell said. “I thought we certainly played well enough to win the game. I thought that the last two nights is the best we played all season.”

He said he thought WKU was “stingy” with the ball as it was last night against North Texas, but that MTSU junior goalkeeper Rebecca Cushing made key saves — even some he wasn’t sure how she made.

“I thought their goalkeeper came up huge,” he said. “She had a tremendous game, and I thought she was the difference maker tonight.”

The heated matchup, which saw the Blue Raiders receive two yellow cards and WKU one, remained scoreless until the 74th minute when MTSU senior defender Fran Howells netted a header off a corner kick.

Neidell said what happened next was a telling sign of the progress the Lady Toppers made throughout the season. He said WKU would show earlier this season that it felt defeated after being scored on through poor body language.

“We got scored on tonight and were like, ‘We’re going to come back.’ We did exactly that,” Neidell said.

Not surprisingly, redshirt junior forward Mallory Outerbridge came through for WKU in the 78th minute with her third goal of the tournament.

Junior midfielder Kelsey Meyer said the magnitude of the game coupled with a rivalry with the Blue Raiders dictated how the game was played.

The 5-2 starter was consistently in the middle of a tense series of plays.

“I definitely have to go out there and play like I’m 6 feet tall, you know?” Meyer said. “That’s how I’ve grown up — always playing gritty.”

The final blow came to the Lady Toppers when MTSU sophomore midfielder Paige Goeglein converted on the Blue Raiders’ first sudden-death shot opportunity to make the shootout score 4-3.

It left WKU sophomore midfielder Shannon Boone with a chance to keep WKU alive, but her attempt was high over the goal.

Boone did not play a single minute in the game itself.

“If there’s any player on the team that I would’ve wanted up there during that time … she is the player that I would’ve wanted there,” Neidell said.

Junior goalkeeper Libby Stout patrolled the goal for WKU throughout the entire match, which consisted of 90 minutes of regulation, 20 minutes of overtime and six-shot-apiece shootout.

She tallied seven saves during the match — scored officially as a draw before the shootout began — and saved two of the six shots she faced in the final duel.

“I’ve been doing penalty kicks since I was little, and it’s always amazing to win,” Stout said. “But when you lose, it’s a feeling you can’t describe.”