In an intense, physical game, a goal by Lexi Miller proved to be just enough to push homestanding East Carolina past UTEP, 1-0, in the Conference USA opener for both squads Friday evening.
The Pirates (5-4-0, 1-0-0 C-USA) managed to secure the early lead with Miller heading home a service from a corner kick at 11:27. The Miners (7-3-0, 0-1-0) regrouped and did plenty right the rest of the way, but they were unable to find the back of the net.
UTEP enjoyed advantages in shots (9-6) and shots on goals, 5-4, but ECU goalkeeper Christiane Cordeo came up with five saves. Junior Jade Babcock rocketed a shot past Cordero in the 67th minute only to have it cruelly clank off the crossbar. UTEP sophomore GK Sarah Dilling registered three stops while punching out a couple of services in turning in a quality performance for the Orange and Blue.
There were whistles galore during the game, with the two teams being called for a combined 27 fouls. Eighteen of the infractions went against the Miners, the most they’ve had in a conference contest since being called for 20 at Marshall on Oct. 17, 2008.
UTEP had decent possession in the opening minutes but couldn’t get a shot off. ECU earned a couple of corners, with the latter resulting in the lone tally of the tilt. A quality service into the area found the head of Miller, who redirected the cross past Dilling.
The Miners settled down a bit after conceding the goal. Ball possession was markedly better, and it started to pay off in the form of some offensive opportunities. Tayler O’Hayre tested Cordero, whose save sent the ball over the end line for a UTEP corner at 27:41.
Senior Tess Hall deftly played a ball to fellow classmate Brittany Kindzierski, who unleashed a shot with good pace only to have it sail wide. Minutes later it was very good through ball that set up Babcock from inside the box on the right side. Cordero was aggressive off the line to cut down the angle, allowing her to fight off the shot.
UTEP continued to press as the period wore on, with Cordero having to deflect a shot by Hall from a corner kick at 36:17. At the other end of the pitch Dilling showed her aerial prowess by punching a ball out of harms’ way on a potentially dangerous volley into the area. In the waning seconds of the stanza, Gina Soto registered a shot but it cruised over the crossbar.
Play was contested primarily in the middle portion of the pitch during the opening sequences of the second half. UTEP started to pick up its intensity, in search of the equalizer. Hall vied to sneak a shot past Cordero from the left wing off a set piece but the GK smothered the shot.
Dilling kept UTEP within striking distance with a diving save on a header by Hali Oughton at 66:31. She then had a good outlet to help initiate the Orange and Blue counter attack. The series of passes led to a clean look for Babcock. Her shot bested Cordero, but the crossbar kept it out.
Babcock had another look in the 73rd minute, using a good touch to cut back inside the defense. The shot forced Cordero to dive, but it ultimately whistled wide. Kenah Linger put her try on target, but Cordero was there in the 80th minute.
The Miners will continue their five-match roadswing by squaring off at Marshall at 11 a.m. MT Sunday. UTEP will then play at SMU (6 p.m. MT, Sept. 28) and Tulsa (1 p.m. MT, Sept. 30) before returning to the friendly confines of University Field the first weekend of October.