VMI opens with win in 2OT thriller

Freshman Liz Affronti had four points, including two assists and the game-winning goal in the 105th minute, helping the VMI Keydets rally for a 4-3, double overtime win over the Howard Bison in non-conference women’s soccer action Friday afternoon at Patchin Field in Lexington, Va. The matchup was the season opener for both schools.

With the score tied at three and time running down in the final extra period, Affronti possessed the ball approximately 20 yards from the Howard net, and was stationed to the right of Bison netminder Chanel Bell. The Keydet freshman then found Simone Jimenez in the middle of the field, just outside the box, and Jimenez returned the ball to a streaking Affronti on the give-and-go. The resultant shot from 12 yards out found the far corner of the net for the game-winner, marking VMI’s first overtime win since Sept. 24, 2009 against UMBC.

The victory is also VMI’s first win in a season opener since 2007, when the Keydets beat Howard at Patchin Field. Finally, it is just the third time in program history that the Keydets have won while giving up more than two goals, joining the 2007 Howard match and a win over Wagner in 2006.

Amanda Berrios earned the win in net for VMI, as she made five saves in her first collegiate appearance as a goalkeeper. Bell made four stops in defeat for Howard.

VMI controlled the pace early in the game, under skies that were overcast and threatened rain. Jimenez immediately threatened to score, putting a shot on net off a first-minute corner kick, but a Bison defender jumped in front of the attempt for a team save. Freshman Sarah Putney then tested HU’s Bell, but the Howard netminder made the save and the game remained scoreless.

Over the next several minutes, each team attempted to move the ball forward, but neither squad was successful as four offside violations were called. VMI’s Myranda Emery tried a shot at 14:38, but had it blocked, and the Keydets could not take advantage of two corners over the next five-plus minutes.

In the 20th minute, while the home team was attempting to clear the ball out of its own end, a VMI defender misplayed the ball well inside the box. Howard’s Ayanna Carter stole the ball and got off a quality shot, but Berrios made a sliding save to keep the match scoreless. The Keydets came right back, as moments later, Emery made a run down the near side of the field. She then arched a cross toward the net for Jimenez, who got the side of her foot on the ball for a shot, but the attempt went just high.

Howard finally broke through in the 30th minute, when Jordan Brown was able to get off a clear shot from Berrios’ left and beat the senior for a goal, putting the visitors up 1-0. That lead grew to two goals in the 44th minute, as Owyn Mason was able to create a 1 vs. 1 situation and beat Berrios with a high, hard shot to put the Bison up, 2-0. That would be the halftime score, as VMI trailed despite outshooting the visitors 20-11.

Under rapidly clearing skies and newly found sunshine, the home team came out quickly in the second half. At 48:46, a change of the field allowed Gabby McCarron to find Emery for a shot from 10 yards out, which the freshman converted for a goal. It was the first career regular season point for McCarron, who has played primarily back line during her time at the Institute.

The Emery score cut the Keydet deficit in half, and a great deal of midfield play followed.

Affronti earned a corner kick in the 66th minute, and got the ball on the resultant possession. Her shot was high, but was tipped by HU keeper Bell, resulting in another corner. In the scrum off Affronti’s next try, Sarah Strand drilled the ball by Bell, tying the score at 2. The goal came at 67:12, and was the first in a flurry of scores.

In the 69th minute, Affronti found Jimenez in the middle of the field, approximately 12 yards from the goal. The junior arched a shot over Bell and into the net, giving the Keydets the lead for the first time, 3-2, and completing a rally that took just 24 minutes.

Howard came right back, however, as the Bison inserted Mason back into their lineup following Jimenez’s goal. The visitors quickly took advantage, as on their next possession, Mason found herself deep in the Keydet zone. A high shot over Berrios’ head, from about 15 yards out, beat the VMI keeper and tied the game once again, 3-3.

The home team threatened in the 76th minute, when an Erica Putney cross just missed Kelly Morrison on the back post. Howard then had perhaps its closest miss of the day, when an open Brown sent a shot just off the crossbar in the 82nd minute. Just two minutes later, Mason had a 1 vs. 1 chance and appeared to miss the near corner of the net by two feet. That would be the final strong threat of regulation, as the match headed to extra time tied, 3-3.

Howard had another 1 vs. 1 go for naught in the first overtime, when Mason misfired to the far side of the net. Neither team could notch a shot on goal in the initial extra period, but Howard tested Berrios in the 103rd minute. The senior made the save, setting the stage for Affronti’s game-winner.

“This is a great comeback for us, one that I think is one of the best in team history,” said VMI head coach Bryan Williams. “Early on, we created a lot of opportunities that we just missed or came up short on. We will finish those as we grow, but we allowed Howard to get in on us, and give them credit. They took the things we gave them, got the lead and had every reason to be pleased with themselves. Myranda Emery’s goal was great, she had no angle and still finished. Our flank players, including the Putney twins, Myranda and Liz Affronti, really stole the show with what they did, but in particular, I think one of the keys was the work rate of Simone Jimenez. That freed up a lot of different things for us, and I’m very happy with that and with the victory.”

All told, VMI started five freshmen while earning the season-opening win, as well as the rookie goalkeeper in Berrios. The Keydets outshot Howard 23-15 and earned eight corner kicks to Howard’s four.

VMI will return to action Friday, August 26, as the Keydets play host to Youngstown State at Patchin Field. The match is set for 5 p.m.

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