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WSOC: Flyers Get Past UMass 2-0 in A10 Quarterfinals
WSOC: Flyers Get Past UMass 2-0 in A10 Quarterfinals
Christopher Rieman
Published by Chris R
10-28-2022
Smile WSOC: Flyers Get Past UMass 2-0 in A10 Quarterfinals

The win-or-go-home sweepstakes officially got underway on Friday evening at Baujan Field as the A10 Quarterfinals gave #2 Dayton and #7 UMass an opportunity to decide who would keep their season and NCAA tourney dreams alive. The Flyers started fast then hit the snooze bar, but pulled away in the second half for the 2-0 victory to move on to the conference semifinals and earn the right to host another tourney match. UD's record improves to 15-3-1 while the Minutewomen finish the year at 5-9-5.

Matching up a pair of teams that played to a highly-competitive 2-1 Dayton win in Amherst earlier in the season, the seed lines for this game felt largely irrelevant considering the teams traded opposing halves of dominating play a little over a month ago. Nothing's better than a fast start to a tournament game but UD has struggled mightily all year to come out of the gates blazing guns. The Flyers would also be without the services of speedy and dangerous midfielder Jess Sheldon -- injured in the season finale against Rhode Island. Despite these trend lines, Head Coach Eric Golz got the fast start he was looking for.

Just moments after kickoff, UD pushed forward and found room to maneuver. Diana Benigno took a slotted ball at the 12yd line and placed a strong shot on frame that required a diving save from UMass goalkeeper Bella Mendoza. On the next meaningful possession, she opened up space in the midfield and served a terrific through-ball to Itala Gemelli running into the right portion of the goal box. Gemelli shed a defender and juked the goalkeeper exiting the box to slot the first goal of the match into an open net in the 5th minute.

Enjoying an early lead at home, Dayton had a great opportunity to build on the success and create further separation in the run of play. UMass didn't fold their tent however. Exploiting loose marking in the Flyer defensive half, they found plenty of gaps to move the ball forward without resistance because the Flyers traded away too much real estate instead of pressuring the ball further upfield. A couple dangerous chances around the UD goal box were snuffed away, including a save by Batoul Reda that was too close for comfort. Those UMass scoring chances would materialize again however.

The middle 30 minutes of the first half were plagued by UD's defensive malaise as the Minutewomen proved the more dangerous attacking team for extended stretches. Without Sheldon's speed and track-back ability to close gaps and provide defensive help -- nor her booming runs down the sidelines in the Flyer attack -- Dayton suffered from a further lack of pace which is something they already had no margin to concede

Gemelli almost made it 2-0 in the 41st minute on a one-timer after a cross in the box from the right side of the field. She didn't get all of it however and Mendoza was there to gobble it up. It was one of the few solid looks on frame Dayton had in the first 45 minutes. UMass had a great chance at the 6yd box moments before halftime, but Reda was there to snag the low cross before a UMass player could poke it in.

Halftime stats favored UD, leading in shots 7-5 and corner kicks 4-1.

UMass continued where they left off in the first half by gaining control of the run of play and forcing the Flyers to defend around their own goal box. Reda cleaned up a loose ball after extending out, sliding low for a block-and-corral after a touch from a UMass attacker pursuing the play.

The second half vibe felt like the next team to score a goal would likely win the match. For a while the momentum favored UMass, but the Flyers took a huge step forward in the 59th minute when Alicia Donley headed in a corner kick at the far left post to provide the Flyers with some breathing room and a 2-0 lead. Mendoza misjudged the ball while challenging in the air, while Donley parked herself in the perfect spot to clean up the play and put UMass in a difficult spot with a half hour of soccer remaining.

UMass never looked despondent and kept pushing forward however, creating possession with combination play in the midfield that ultimately led to additional dangerous balls served into the Flyer goal box.

The next 20 minutes were mostly about match management. With enough offense on the scoreboard, the Flyers were tasked with bleeding away the game clock and avoiding the big mistakes that make a comfortable working margin suddenly full of drama and suspense. UD didn't commit their offense to push forward too recklessly and get caught out of position on a dangerous counter-attack, though there were one or two more opportunities to find another goal. By the last five minutes however, the clock was UD's best friend and the Minutewomen were relegated to long-ball soccer and half-chances from distance.

Second half stats were led by UD 8-4 in shots and 2-1 on corner kicks. Reda was huge when her teammates needed her, commanding her goal box and challenging low and high on dangerous UMass scoring opportunities. She got help from Mackenzie Lutz who put in a physical 90 minutes in the back line, while Donley probably had a better defensive game than her goal that will show up in the boxscore. The midfield struggled without Sheldon however the lack of individual pace was often leveraged by speedier UMass players closing gaps and finding seams. Benigno did her best to bang shoulders and act as both a holding- and attacking central mid, but her size cannot command the entire workload without some help.

Friday's match was not unlike most of the matches this season: Dayton separating themselves on the scoreboard despite not dominating the run of play against lesser foes. It's been one of the oddest years in program history; a 15-win team with 11 shutouts and a second place A10 finish in the regular season, juxtaposed against a questionable-at-times eyeball test and suffering mightily against most teams for extended stretches -- regardless of their record. It begs the question as to whether UD is more talented or simply more opportunistic. It's likely a bit of both as UD has found a way to tap-dance on the head of a pin all year and make it their calling card. Given the choice of losing pretty or winning ugly, fans, coaches, and players will gladly take the latter.

The #2 seed Flyers will host an A10 Semifinal match on Wednesday evening against the second lowest remaining seed. If #8 Loyola beats Saint Louis on Saturday, UD will host the Ramblers. Otherwise Dayton will host #4 Davidson.
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