RUSTON, Louisiana (KVIA) -- A pillar of Head Coach Rob Baarts’ philosophy for the Aggies is a defensive mindset when points are at a premium. This proves to be ever true in the postseason as patience proved to be a virtue – as NM State (10-5-3, 6-0-2 CUSA) scored two second-half goals to knock off Sam Houston (6-7-4, 3-3-2 CUSA) in the CUSA Semifinals.
The Aggies now look ahead to Championship Sunday, where they will play Liberty. First kick is scheduled for Noon (MT), with fans able to stream the action on ESPN+ or follow along thanks to StatsBroadcast.
Appearing in the starting lineup for just the eighth time this season, sophomore Mya Gonzalez made her presence felt early, tallying the game’s first shot on goal when she took a pass from Brooke Schultz and nearly found the back of the net in the 10th minute of action.
Gonzalez also helped create several other opportunities for the Aggie offense, including a chance for CUSA Player of the Year Loma McNeese, who sent a shot off the ground and just over the crossbar after Gonzalez played the ball into the six-yard box.
CUSA All-Freshman selection Shila Rasoul entered the game in the 31st minute and showed her offensive prowess quickly forcing the Bearkat goalie to make a save just minutes after stepping onto the pitch. In total, the Aggies took eight shots to the Bearkats four in the first half - however, both sides landed two shots on goal.
As tends to be the case when championships are on the line, the game got a little chippy in the second half. Mya Hammack received a yellow card just 23 seconds into the second half, though Sam Houston was unable to convert the free kick into a scoring opportunity. This became one of three yellow cards for the Crimson & White in the second half, with the Bearkats earning one just minutes before halftime.
The Bearkats challenged Aggie goalkeeper Valerie Guha for the first time in the second half in the 52nd minute, getting her in a one-on-one situation, though the redshirt Freshman was easily able to secure it and neutralize the threat.
In the 59th minute, the Aggies were able to take advantage of a wild volley off the head of a Sam Houston defender, with the ball finding the foot of Mya Gonzales. Passing it off to CUSA Offensive Player of the Year Loma McNeese, she was able to push the ball forward to a wide open Gia Valenti, sinking the ball into the back of the net to break the deadlock. This became the first score in 149 minutes the two teams’ had played to this point – their first matchup a 0-0 draw in Las Cruces.
Playing with a lead late in the second half, the Aggies clamped down on defense, allowing just four shots with two on goal for the remainder of the match. Not a team to take their foot off the gas, NM State found itself with another scoring opportunity in the 88th minute when a long cross-field pass from Meredith Scott found Loma McNeese with plenty of room to operate. Though Bearkat goalie Savannah Hall was able to get a glove on the ball, the momentum of the pass from McNeese was able to find the feet of Gia Valenti, squeezing it past to give NM State a 2-0 lead it would not relinquish.
QUOTABLES | Gia Valenti | Senior Midfielder
“We talk about it all the time – play for T[halia Chaverria], and I play for T all the time. So, two goals for T – that’s what I’m here for.”
Numbers of Note
9 – With the win, NM State extends its unbeaten streak to nine games, sporting a 7-0-2 record all-time in CUSA play.
8 – Throughout the season, NM State has been a terror on the defensive side of the field. Postseason play has changed very little for the Aggies, securing their eighth shutout of the season in the 2-0 win over Sam Houston. This also marked All-Freshman select Valerie Guha’s sixth clean sheet of the season – all in her last eight contests against CUSA foes.
5 – Gia Valenti’s second-half brace gave her five goals on the season, propelling her to second on the team in goals scored behind fellow senior Loma McNeese (6). The pair of scores represented Valenti’s first goal since Sept. 17, a 4-3 win over LA Tech, and her first points since tallying an assist on the Aggies’ lone goal against FIU on Oct. 12.