CULLOWHEE, N.C. – Freshman Kristen Schmidbauer scored her second game-winning goal of the postseason and tournament MVP Kelsey Kearney picked up her third shutout of the postseason as top-seeded UNCG downed No. 2 seed Samford in the Southern Conference Women's Soccer Championship title game on Sunday, 1-0. With the win, the 14th-ranked Spartans claimed the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
The Spartans (19-1-1) will now await word on who they will face in the NCAA first round. The selection show will air at approximately 4:30 p.m. Monday on ESPNU.
"I've got to give credit to Samford," UNCG coach Eddie Radwanski said. "They made it a very difficult match today. I think Coach Todd (Yelton) had his tactics down, and the first half was tough for us. We were a little stagnant and it was tough to get things going. I think that was really due to Samford and their play. But, you know, you get in these championship games and you have tight games and you have find ways to manufacture goals and you have to find ways to be creative. I was proud of the kids, how they improvised on the corner kick to score a great goal. We kind of felt like one goal might be good enough. With Kelsey in goal, and our back four doing the job they've done throughout the season, we felt pretty confident. You're never secure about a game like that until the final whistle, and Samford played until the final seconds. That's a very good team that we played today."
With the game scoreless in the second half, the Spartans earned a corner kick in the 58th minute. Cat Barnekow rushed over and played a ball to Partenheimer, who one-timed the ball in to Schmidbauer. The rookie knocked it home for her ninth goal of the season and second game-winner of the tournament. She also had the lone UNCG score in a 1-0 win over Wofford in the first round on Oct. 31.
There were few scoring chances for either team on the afternoon in a match that pitted the top two defenses in the SoCon against each other.
Barnekow had an outstanding look in the 25th minute, but her laser off a Schoening corner kick hit Schmidbauer in traffic in the box. The Spartans had another solid scoring chance in the 55th minute, but Samford keeper Alyssa Whitehead punched away Kennedy's header off a Schoening free kick.
Shortly after UNCG got on the board, Samford's Sarah Wilkinson missed a golden opportunity for the equalizer in the 63rd minute, as her header on an open net sailed high.
The Bulldogs (13-6-3) made a frantic push in the final 10 minutes of the game, but couldn't push one across. With about seven minutes left, Leah Leppert took a free kick from 20 yards out, but put it directly into the UNCG wall. Barnekow cleared it to safety.
Moments later, Samford earned a corner kick, but Leppert's attempt hooked out of play. The Bulldogs earned one more corner kick and this time, Leppert was on the receiving end. She played a ball back into the box from the left wing, but no one was home to put it away.
Kearney made a pair of saves on the afternoon, including a game-saver just moments before halftime. Samford's Katie Proud shot from just inside the 18, but Kearney punched it over the crossbar to keep the game scoreless at the time.
The shutout was Kearney's 12th of the year, matching the school record for single-season shutouts. UNCG didn't allow a goal in the tournament for the fifth time in school history, and first since 2008.
With the win, UNCG picked up its seventh SoCon tournament title since joining the league in 1997. UNCG improved to 7-1-1 all-time in the title game.
The Spartans improved to 19-1-1 on the season, matching the school record for single-season wins and extending their school-record winning streak to 16 games.
UNCG will be making its ninth NCAA tournament appearance and first since 2007.
UNCG 1, Samford 0
Goals by period 1 2 Tot
Samford............. 0 0 - 0
UNCG................ 0 1 - 1
1. 57:28 UNCG Kristen Schmidbauer (9) (Jenn Partenheimer;Cat Barnekow)
Shots: Samford 5, UNCG 6
Saves: Samford 1 (Alyssa Whitehead 1), UNCG 2 (Kelsey Kearney 2)
Corner kicks: Samford 3, UNCG 2
Fouls: Samford 6, UNCG 9
- UNCG -