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WSOC: Benigno's Blast Lifts UD to A10 Finals with 1-0 Win over Davidson
WSOC: Benigno's Blast Lifts UD to A10 Finals with 1-0 Win over Davidson
Christopher Rieman
Published by Chris R
Smile WSOC: Benigno's Blast Lifts UD to A10 Finals with 1-0 Win over Davidson

With a trip to the Atlantic 10 tournament title match on the line, the Dayton Flyers women's soccer team hosted Davidson on Wednesday evening in the conference semis, outlasting the Wildcats 1-0 at Baujan Field. The game-winner was courtesy of a terrific blast from Diana Benigno in the first half. Dayton improves 16-3-1 and keeps their season alive, while Davidson ends the season at 13-3-4.

The Flyers began the match with some early possession, looking to the feet of Benigno in the central midfield to act as a conduit moving forward. UD earned a corner kick to get things started, then moments later she played a terrific back-door pass to Noel Blain down the right side of the box. Blain's juke resulted in a poke to the far post that missed by the width of the ball.

Both teams traded possession over the next 10 minutes, probing for open areas of the field to exploit with either focused service or dribble-drives. After earning another corner kick opportunity, Dayton capitalized in the 24th minute when Benigno half-volleyed a clearance from 25yds with a SportsCenter Top-10 strike to the upper-90 of the far post to give the Flyers the early 1-0 advantage. It was perhaps Dayton's best goal of the season and came at the boot of a player unfairly snubbed from the recent A10 All-Conference selections announced earlier this week.

Dayton avoided calamity about 10 minutes later when Natalie Hegg's clearance was shanked from 15yds out and headed to the back of the Flyer net, but Batoul Reda's diving save at the left post protected the 1-0 lead.

A pair of UD corner kicks followed after some additional back-and-forth play between the goal boxes, but Davidson's stingy defense marked up well and turned those Flyer scoring opportunities away. The remaining five minutes of the first half produced few dangerous scoring chances by either team as the Flyers avoided the late-half mistake to preserve the 1-0 advantage at intermission.

Halftime stats favored Dayton in shots 10-3 and corner kicks 5-1, though shots on goal were even at two a piece. The Flyers controlled 60% of the possession and got forward on numerous occasions, but the speed of play -- something UD has fought against all season -- hampered several of those opportunities and were made more difficult with the absence of speedy left midfielder Jess Sheldon -- once again unavailable due to injury. The struggle for pace on Flyer counter-attacks gave Davidson enough time to get adequate numbers behind the ball for much of the first half.

Dayton's second half challenge was to find the next goal and put the Wildcats down 2-0 and crack their spirits, while DC was just a clean scoring chance away from tying the match at 1-1 and making things a cage match to the final whistle. The posture of both sides at the restart would dictate the last 45 minutes.

Davidson had stronger moments early on, piecing together more possession through stronger combination play in the middle third. They also took advantage of some sloppy UD touches that allowed loose balls to turn against the Flyers. Wildcat counter-attacks forced Dayton into retreat, surrendering play on their own side of the field for longer stretches. While UD never conceded dangerous shots on goal during this period, it was a struggle to counter DC's pace and win a share of loose balls to resume tactical advantage on the ball.

Dayton's first honest scoring opportunity of the second half came in the 71st minute when Marlee Taylor dribbled forward with pace and distributed up top. A couple shots from distance were deflected away but Itala Gemelli left a ball for Mia Perri running into space. Her shot from long-range went far post and necessitated a fairly routine save, but the sequence was UD's best link-up thus far.

Gemelli missed a golden opportunity to put the Flyers up 2-0 in the 78th minute after Karli Ferguson went back-door with a pass to Blain inside the right part of the goal box. Blain's uncontested feed to Gemelli at the 6yd line hit her in stride, but she got under the ball and knocked it over the crossbar to squander the venerable nail in the coffin.

The Wildcats pressed hard in the final five minutes, forcing the Flyers to defend with numbers in the box. Long-ball service from a handful of free kicks threw a scare into the Dayton back line, including one occasion when Ferguson got away with an apparent handball in the box while attempting a clearance. Davidson spend the last 90 seconds in scramble mode as they were desperate to find the equalizer, but UD's back line defended well in the aerial challenges and ran out the clock for the 1-0 victory.

Second half stats reflected a more evenly played 45 minutes with shots at 5-5. UD attempted the lone corner kick.

It wasn't an outstanding final 45 minutes of soccer, but head coach Eric Golz' squad stiffened up defensively when they needed to in order to protect the second half lead and keep their season alive. The Wildcats ramped up their pace of play and that resulted in additional sequences in their offensive half of the pitch. Dayton's best scoring chances -- what few they were -- usually came on counter-attacks when DC defenders were chasing into space. When the Flyers moved forward with traditional build-up from the back, the speed of play was often never there to find the gaps they were looking to exploit. The match ultimately hinged on a singular moment of brilliance from Benigno's foot and to UD's credit they were prepared to step up and meet that challenge.

The Flyers earned their first A10 tournament title berth since thrashing top-seeded St. Joseph's 7-0 for the 2016 A10 title in former head coach Mike Tucker's final season at the helm. UD will travel to Saint Louis for a Sunday match against the #1 seeded Billikens. SLU is comfortably in the NCAA tourney field regardless of outcome, but UD must win and earn the automatic bid to reach the bracket.

C. M. Rieman | Publisher | 937.361.4630 | Get the latest here:

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