Aaron Gordon’s squad improves to 2-1 on the season and will play for the tournament championship when it meets host Florida Gulf Coast at Noon CST on Sunday.
After MSU starting keeper C.J. Winship made an early save on a Claire Emslie header, Mary Kathryn Taylor made her homecoming a memorable one as she gave the Bulldogs the lead with her first-career goal.
The Pace, Fla., native’s strike came in the ninth minute on State’s first shooting opportunity of the match. Freshman Annebel ten Broeke notched her second assist as she dropped a pass off to Taylor, who lined a shot into the upper 90.
“In the first few minutes, we had to settle into the game having to play our fourth different lineup. I think we were trying to figure out where we were in those first few minutes, but we won a ball, caught the other team on the break and Mary Kathryn buried a great goal into the corner that got us started,” Gordon said.
“We challenged our players to respond, and after a good week of practice, we did,” Gordon said. “It’s hard to win on the road any time, but I thought our team acclimated well to the travel and the conditions and it paid off.”
Taylor and Sullivan had follow-up chances stopped by FAU keeper Courtney Zwetsch, but Bender pushed the MSU lead to 2-0 as she netted her first goal with five minutes to go before halftime.
Senior Morganne Grimes served a free kick into the box that found Halee Heltsley, who then flicked the ball on to Bender for the left-footed strike.
“Toward the end of the half, both teams were fatigued due to the heat, and we had a set play that Chelsi finished nicely,” Gordon said.
The Bulldogs were unable to take the two-goal lead to the half, however, as FAU got on the board with 1:30 remaining. Kelsey Parry sent the Owls’ fourth corner of the first half into the box where it found the left foot of Taylor Sorrels for the finish.
The first half was an evenly-played one, with Florida Atlantic claiming a 5-4 shots advantage. The Bulldogs, however, took a 4-2 edge in on-goal opportunities.
Mississippi State came out gunning to open the second half. Ten Broeke started the half with a shot that was saved by Zwetsch, but the Dawgs capitalized moments later on a Sullivan penalty kick.
“We talked at halftime about the things we needed to do. We came out and created some chances, and we got a penalty kick that Elisabeth buried,” State’s first-year coach said. “Were able to make the two-goal advantage hold up, and late in the game we were able to get a bunch of players in which enabled us to rest some players for Sunday.”
The Memphis native was fouled attempting a shot in the box, and she buried the ensuing penalty into the left side for her 27th-career goal and school-record fifth-straight match with a score.
Sullivan nearly had her second of the afternoon in the 62nd minute, but Zwetsch denied her with one of her four saves in the contest.
A solid showing from the MSU back line and three of four saves from Meara Johnson in the final two minutes sealed the match.
“Dana Forbes was great at right back, and I thought the back line was very good overall. We were also very good on the break today,” Gordon said. “Darbi Filliben contributed a lot for us today. She really came in and gave us a lift by winning some balls. She looked very confident out there.”
Johnson’s first stop came off a Taylor Sorrels header at the 87:35 mark. On the following corner kick, Andreina Sifontes put a shot on frame that the Brampton, Ontario, native managed to snag.
With just over :30 left, she denied a Gabriella Sosa header to seal the win and give the Bulldogs a chance to vie for the championship.
The Owls ended the match with a 13-11 shots advantage, but the Bulldogs were the more accurate side, taking a 7-6 edge in one-goal opportunities. FAU earned five corner kicks to State’s one, but were whistled for five offsides violations.