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Photo by Ron Swords
Photo by Ron Swords

CHENEY, Wash. — Sacramento State was aggressive out of the gates Wednesday morning but it was Northern Colorado which struck first. After falling behind 1-0 late in the first half, the Hornets were unable to recover, ultimately falling 2-0 in the first match of the 2017 Big Sky Conference Tournament.

The day started off cold and damp, but that didn't slow down the Hornets offense. Sacramento State pressed early, taking the game's first shot and putting consistent pressure on the Northern Colorado backline for the first 30 minutes of play. The Hornets had an excellent chance on a Mikayla Reed header in the 15th minute, but Bear keeper made a leaping punch save to keep the match scoreless. Kylee Kim-Bustillos had another opportunity, but her kick was just high, deflecting off the cross bar in the 30th minute.

Northern Colorado flipped the script late in the first half, taking control of the ball and pushing hard against the Sacramento State defense. The Bears were rewarded in the 40th minute when, on a free kick, Olivia Seddon found Taylor Bray in the box. Bray connected for her first goal of the season to give the Bears the 1-0 advantage.

Despite trailing at the end of the period, the Hornets held a 6-3 advantage in shots and a 4-2 advantage in shots on goal. Both team had seven fouls, three corner kicks and Sacramento State had the half's only offsides call.

The sun came out for the second half, but it was more of the same as Northern Colorado continued to force the Hornets to play defense. The Bears extended their lead to 2-0 when Seddon outraced the Sacramento State defense from midfield and drilled one past Aaliyah Fesili in the 50th minute.

Ultimately, Northern Colorado's high-powered defense proved to be too much for the Hornets. The Bears, who entered the tournament riding a four-match unbeaten streak, posted a Big Sky best nine shutouts during the season. Sacramento State pressed hard against the Bear defense, taking 12 shots on the afternoon, but was unable to break through. The Hornets held the edge in shots (12-9) and corners (6-5), but trailed in shots on goal (7-5).

The Sacramento State defense, also one of the best in the Big Sky, was challenged Wednesday, taking the field without midfielder Caitlin Prothe and defender Chelsea Arnold. Both were first team all-Big Sky selections and both were sidelined with injury.

With the win, Northern Colorado advances to the Big Sky Tournament semifinal against the No. 2 seed Montana. For the Bears, the win was their second shutout victory over the Hornets this season.

The 2017 Hornets set a new program record with four ties in Big Sky play this season, passing their previous high of three (4-0-3 in 2007). Their 13 points in conference were the team's fewest since scoring 12 (4-6-0) during the 2014 season.