Photo: Natalie Mason hold possession against LeTourneau. Mason scored the game-winning goal for UMHB on Thursday night (Photo by Russell Marwitz/True To The Cru/russellmarwitz.com)
ABILENE-1-0. It seems the battles between UMHB and Hardin-Simmons are always decided by a margin of a single goal. More so than even the final score, that narrow difference represents the competitiveness found when two of the American Southwest Conference’s best go head-to-head.
So it was only fitting that tradition was kept in West Texas on Thursday night. UMHB took down Hardin-Simmons, 1-0, taking complete control of the conference standings lead. It also marked UMHB’s first win at HSU in program history.
As it turned out, Natalie Mason’s second-half goal–the shot that arced perfectly past the outstretched arms of HSU goalkeeper Haley Foley–was the only scoring play of the match. And it was a memorable play to say the least.
A Hardin-Simmons’ corner kick led to a shot from HSU’s Lexi Templin just over five minutes in the second half, but UMHB’s Reagan Williams was in the right spot for the save. The Crusaders then responded by pushing the ball upfield, with a long throw-in to Mackenzie Worthy giving UMHB favorable possession in opposing territory.
Though HSU initially held off the attack, UMHB’s Maren Fields rushed to the ball ahead of a Cowgirl defender, and sent a high pass to Breland Mungia. Mungia, who was about 30 yards from the goal, quickly got the ball to Mason. The junior forward from Cypress, Texas, did not hesitate. She got an initial touch on the ball, sprinted to her right, then fired the shot from just over 20 yards out. It was a picture-perfect shot, and it gave UMHB the lead, seven minutes into the second half of play.
As the clock wound down, HSU had its opportunities to tie the score. There was a free kick that ended up resulting in a shot to the right of the goal, and a corner kick that was sent wide left. The minutes ticked away, and the intensity was amplified. With under a minute left, UMHB’s Jayme Dowell intercepted an HSU pass along the right side of the field, halting the Cowgirls’ building momentum. HSU did not get off a clean shot until less than 10 seconds remained, as the Cowgirls took a hurried corner kick from the left side, and the ball found its way to Lauren Stengel.
Stengel put up one of HSU’s best shots of the evening from just over 20 yards out, in an effort to beat the buzzer. Her shot was on point, but so was Williams. It was yet another key save for the UMHB goalkeeper, as she deflected the shot just above the top crossbar, with the final buzzer sounding simultaneously.
Last season, UMHB was still very much the underdog to HSU. The Cru had never beaten the Cowgirls until they did so in Belton on Oct. 22 in the regular season. It was 1-0 win. Then came the ASC Championship match, with an NCAA Tournament bid on the line. Another 1-0 game. Another UMHB win.
But heading into Thursday’s match, The Cru had yet to win at HSU. Both of last year’s wins came in Belton. So if for further proof that UMHB now holds the ASC’s top spot when it comes to women’s soccer powers, the Crusaders took down their longtime rivals in an evenly-contested match that ended in a fitting 1-0 result.
20 matches in Abilene. 20 losses. Until Thursday night. UMHB now controls its own destiny in the race for the ASC regular season title, and the right to host the league tournament.
Worthy led The Cru with five shots, two of which were on goal. Williams tallied four saves in a 90-minute effort for her fifth complete-game shutout performance of the season. Through 765 minutes played this season, Williams has yet to allow a goal.
UMHB closes out its road trip to Abilene on Saturday, battling McMurry at 5:00 p.m. The Warhawks are 9-3-2 overall.