FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Sacramento State junior forward Elece McBride scored in the 52nd minute and the Hornet defense allowed just five Northern Arizona shots on goal as the Lumberjacks fell, 1-0, in the Big Sky Championship Final in Lumberjack Stadium. The loss was the first for Northern Arizona since September 12, ending its school record 12 game unbeaten streak and preventing the team from winning its third straight conference title.
The Lumberjacks dropped to 12-4-3 while Sacramento State improved to 9-9-1 and earned the Big Sky automatic bid to the NCAA College Cup. The Hornets will learn their postseason destination when the NCAA Tournament field is revealed on Monday at 2:30 p.m. Arizona time on ESPNU.
"That's soccer. Sacramento State is a good team," said head coach Andre Luciano. "They had their one good chance and they buried a perfect shot. We just couldn't finish today and I think our luck just ran out. We had a great season, and that is something than can never be taken away from our players."
Both teams only attempted five shots apiece in a defensive first half, with Hornet junior goalkeeper Savannah Abercrombie making two saves and NAU junior goalkeeper Tori Rocke needing to make just one save to complete a scoreless opening half.
Just over six minutes into the second half, Sacramento State had its best chance to score and didn't miss. A loose ball near midfield was pushed forward by Hornet sophomore Kelsey O'Donnell, finding McBride on a run towards the top of the Lumberjack box. The Hornet junior fired a perfect shot over the head or Rocke and just below the crossbar into the NAU goal to give Sacramento State the lead.
The Lumberjacks would have their chances to net an equalizer, totaling 12 shots through the remainder of regulation. In the 80th minute, Northern Arizona junior Jenna Samora pushed a shot on goal from inside the Hornet box, with Abercrombie diving backward to prevent the dribbler from reaching the goal. The Hornet backstop would make her best save in the 84th minute, as Lumberjack junior Sam Monahan had a point-blank try inside the Sacramento State goalmouth denied on a superb diving stop by Abercrombie.
After that save, NAU would have two shots blocked and send two shots high through the remainder of the game as the Hornets were able to withstand a furious late push by the home team to earn a hard-fought 1-0 win and the Big Sky title.
McBride, who also scored the game wining goal against Portland State in the semifinals on Friday, was named tournament MVP. Rocke, Samora, Monahan and senior defender Kristi Andreassen represented the Lumberjacks on the All-Tournament team.
Northern Arizona held a 17-10 shot advantage for the game but was able to put only five shots on goal. The Hornets only had three shots on goal but finished the one that counted. Only two corner kicks were attempted in the game, both by Northern Arizona, while only 11 total fouls were called through full time. Sunday's game was only the third time in 19 games this season that the Lumberjacks were shutout.
The Lumberjacks school-record 12 game unbeaten streak ended just one game shy of tying the Big Sky record set by Weber State in 1998. Sunday's loss also ended NAU's nine game home winning streak dating back to 2008. During the regular season, the Lumberjacks broke school and Big Sky records with a six game shutout streak that lasted 569 minutes and 2 seconds. The team's 12 wins equaled the 2008 squad for the most in a season in program history. NAU only allowed four goals in its last-13 games, three of which were scored by Sacramento State.
During the season, senior Tori Howe became the school's all-time leader in career matches started (79) and tied the record for career matches played (79), which was also equaled by Andreassen, who started 78 career games and made 69 consecutive starts through the end of her career. Senior Brenna Boies broke the career assists record (now at 23) while Rocke broke the career shutouts record (now at 20) and set single-season records for goals against average (0.60), fewest goals against (8) and win percentage (.808).
Sunday's game was the final match for graduating seniors Andreassen, Boies, Howe, forward Brandy Carr, midfielder Anna Clark, midfielder Corie McGuire, forward Carolyn Savage and defender Rebekah Schmidt, known fondly by Luciano and the Northern Arizona soccer program as "The Foundation".