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Ohio's Tayla Hansen runs with the ball during the Bobcats’ match against Kent State on Oct. 19. (FILE)

Field Hockey: Bobcats confident heading into MAC Tournament matchup with Ball State

The Ohio players believe they should have beaten Ball State when they played Oct. 5. 

Now, they’re even more confident that they will be able to do so when the the Bobcats and the Cardinals meet Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Mid-American Conference Tournament.

In a game in which both teams had more than 10 shots and were over their season average for penalty corners, Ball State won 3-2 in double overtime. All five goals were scored off penalty corners; both teams struggled to finish in front of the goal.

“We just failed to finish, so it’s not a matter of us not being strong enough to make opportunities. It was us just on the other side and just not being really diligent with finishing,” Ohio coach Ali Johnstone said.

Ohio (4-11, 2-4 MAC) comes into the game having lost seven straight games. It’s struggling defensively, allowing 28 combined goals in those losses.

Part of that dilemma is the Bobcats are still fine-tuning the high-pressure system that Johnstone has introduced in her first year. They also struggle to pass, leaving the backfield under more pressure.

This season is the first time in three years that Ohio is in the conference tournament. Before this season, only the top four teams in the MAC went to the tournament. Now, each team in conference makes it to a seeded tournament. Ohio is the fifth seed this year; the Bobcats wouldn’t have made the tournament in previous seasons.

Only three players on the Ohio roster have played in a MAC Tournament — the Bobcats made it in 2015 — and only two of them, Emma Eggleston and Alex Pennington, will play this year. The third, Kendall Ballard, has not played this season.

Ball State (2-13, 2-4 MAC) has only scored 12 goals all season. No player has more than three goals, and the Cardinals have only scored more than one goal twice. They have struggled to create shots, averaging seven per game. But last time they played the Bobcats, they had 16.

The Cardinals have also struggled defensively, allowing 62 goals on 279 shots and 128 penalty corners. The Bobcats took 12 shots the last time the two teams played, but only five of them were on goal.  

Despite having almost 50 more shots than last season, Ohio has scored the same number of goals as last season: 21.

“I think the key of the tournament is just going to be finishing off the goals so that we can win games that we should win," Eggleston said.

Jillian Shive will be the key finisher for Ohio. She leads the team with nine goals and has been solid in front of the net — 24 of her 27 shots have been on goal. The Bobcats will need to create opportunities for Shive, who has taken fewer than two shots a game.

Most of those opportunities have been created by Eggleston, a midfielder, and forward Karynne Baker. That duo has combined for nine assists.

Awaiting the winner in the semifinal is No. 25 Miami (13-6, 6-0 MAC), the clear tournament favorite. The RedHawks have the best attack and defense in the MAC, and they thrashed Ohio 5-0 on Sunday.

Kent State (7-11, 5-1 MAC) is the closest challenger to Miami. The Golden Flashes are the second seed, but they were dominated 3-0 by the RedHawks on Sept. 22.

Ohio can’t think past the quarterfinal game against Ball State, though. The conference tournament is a mental challenge in which the team’s focus can’t waver.

"We should've won (against Ball State the first time),” junior Brittany Keen said. “It’s definitely redemption round when we play them in the MAC (Tournament). I think it’s going to be a different score line.”


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