Oct. 27, 2013
HATTIESBURG, Miss. - The match started and ended with an emotional moment for a Golden Eagle senior soccer player. In the poetically-just, 90-plus minutes that occurred between those instances, Southern Miss logged a 4-3 overtime win versus Old Dominion in a conference game that seemed inspired by a Hollywood script.
Prior to the match, the Golden Eagles (7-8-4, 1-6-2 Conference USA) and Old Dominion (1-12-3, 1-6-2 Conference USA) collectively honored Southern Miss senior forward Chelsea Cruthirds, who was unable to play after a serious spine injury last weekend left her temporarily hospitalized and currently walking with the aid of a cane.
In this game, however, Cruthirds started the match, walked without cane and only limited assistance from two teammates to the midfield stripe and officially kicked the ball into play to a Monarch defender, who promptly kicked the ball out of bounds to allow freshman Adriana Garcia to sub in for Cruthirds, the latter having officially received credit for the start and three seconds of action.
It was a crowd-pleasing, teary-eyed walk off the field for the senior from Sorrento, La., who remains second on the team with six goals, including one hat trick, in 2013.
"More than just getting the chance to go out there," a still-touched Cruthirds said post-match, "it was nice having my whole team with me, and my family and all the other seniors' families and the coaching staff here with me. It wasn't just important to me. I could tell it was important to everyone. This is one of the most emotional moments I've ever had ... I wouldn't change anything about my last four years."
"Chelsea is a tough kid," head coach Mohammed El-Zare said. "She has been a solid starter for us all year and has shown amazing resiliency all season. In the last 10 days, she's shown a great fighting spirit just to be able to come back and walk onto the field. She inspires us all and proves there are no excuses. You can always do your best on any given day."
Appropriately, Garcia, the player who missed a start to allow Cruthirds her moment of glory, was the player who shown brightest early for the Golden Eagles.
Normally a defender, Garcia played forward in this game due to injuries and scored a pair of first-half goals, one just four minutes into the match off an assist from Brooke Hendrix and a second in the 11th minute off an assist by senior Danica Roberts.
In the second half, the Monarchs mounted a comeback with unassisted goals by Melanie Oakes and Grace Haverly in the 50th and 60th minutes, respectively.
Southern Miss was game, however, and went ahead 3-2 in the 78th minute when Roberts ripped a ball into the back of the net with an assist from Mary Margaret Underwood.
Old Dominion added to the drama in the 80th minute with a goal by Jordan Jones that forced the overtime. That set the stage for arguably the most celebrated goal of the year for the Golden Eagles.
With just 28 seconds remaining in the first overtime, Roberts crossed a ball to the fellow senior Danielle Beatty, a defender who entered the match with zero career goals.
Beatty received the ball 20 yards out and to the far left of the pitch but unleashed a high, arching shot that bent into the upper right corner of the Old Dominion net, ending the match on a "golden goal" and sending the crown and Golden Eagle team into a frenzy.
"There was (a chance) earlier in the match that I wasn't able to capitalize on," Beatty said. "I told myself that I would get the next one. I didn't realize that was how it was going to happen. That was my favorite shot back in high school so I had confidence in my ability to make it."
It was a testament to a team that has shown fight throughout the season, and no shortage of class at all stops, that Southern Miss would end its home campaign in this manner.
"We battled to the end," Beatty said. "We had a few mishaps along the way but we didn't let it stop us. We kept fighting. We wanted to send all the seniors away with a win."
"I am so excited and happy and proud of this team," El-Zare said. "I thought this was a great win for our seniors. The whole team brought its best effort today. Danielle has been resilient all year and fought through injuries and adversity. You could not have written a better end for her or for this team."
Cruthirds, who cheered and encouraged from the sideline, said the effort was typical of what she's come to expect from the Golden Eagles in the last four years.
"We don't have the best record and we aren't at the top of our conference, but we still came out and got a win," Cruthirds said. "We showed a lot of fight, which is great. Not a lot of teams have that."
It was a win fueled by the entirety of the senior class, those who have played throughout the year and those just now returning to full health.
Roberts, the leading scorer in Conference USA, finished with a goal and two assists. Shelbi Moeller, who has been unable to play this season due to injuries, checked in on defense due to a late injury and made several key stops to help preserve the game.
"I can't say enough about these seniors," El-Zare said. "They came out and played with a purpose today, some of them coming off of injury. Danica has been solid and led us throughout the year. That continued to show today. Shelbi has been battling injuries for a year now. She only really got back to the point that she was healthy enough to play this week but she showed great fight in this match. I am proud of her, not just for the quality minutes she played but for the process she went through to get back."
Freshman keeper Brittany Taylor (4-8-4) got the win after making 13 saves. Old Dominion's Erin Kinz (0-1) and Meredith Lenox combined for 10 saves on the day.
Southern Miss has one match remaining on its 2013 calendar, an Oct. 31 visit to Colorado College.
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