It was a dominant display from the Spartans Thursday night that saw them fashion 33 shots while allowing only two, as they defeated Illinois under the DeMartin lights 2-1.
Head Coach Jeff Hosler elected for an unchanged lineup following their 2-0 win against Rutgers.
The Spartans would set the tempo early in the third minute when sophomore midfielder Emerson Sargeant found time and space at the top of the Illinois 18-yard box, firing a shot that was blocked at the last moment by an Illinois defender.
In the tenth minute, the Spartans nearly took the lead off a corner kick. Junior forward Jordyn Wickes directed a header that beat Illinois goalkeeper Julia Cili before being cleared by an Illinois defender.
Six minutes later, the Spartans had another opportunity to take the lead. Graduate defender Raegan Cox found herself free on the right edge of the 18-yard box, and flashed a cross across the 6-yard box to freshman forward Bella Najera. Najera was unable to direct her shot on target.
The Spartans continued pressing for a goal in the 22nd minute. Wickes, cleverly turning her marker, made space before slipping a pass to Najera in the 18-yard box who couldn’t put her shot on target.
“We put players in really dangerous spots today, it's uncharacteristic for Bella to miss an opportunity like she did," Hosler said about the 33 shots in the game but only two goals to show. "We clearly have to be more efficient, but I like the chances we’re creating."
In the 32nd minute, the Spartans went calling for a goal yet again. Cox curled a pass down the right sideline, finding the run of Sargeant as she burst past her marker into the 18-yard box. Sargeant fashioned a shot, but not before an Illinois defender directed the effort off target.
In the 37th minute, Illinois opened up the scoring with their first of the game. A scramble in the Spartan 18-yard box led to the ball finding the feet of senior forward Zoey Kollhoff, whose shot deflected off two Spartan defenders before rolling over the goal-line to give the visitors the lead.
Just a minute later the Spartans marched down the field, finding themselves in the Illinois 18-yard box before senior forward Ranya Senhaji was taken down, awarding the Spartans a penalty.
Senior midfielder Justina Gaynor stepped up to take the penalty. Gaynor cooly slotted the ball in the bottom left corner to bring the hosts even with six minutes left in the half.
“They only enter our box one time and they score, a little disappointing (and) against the run of play, but our team showed the resilience to equalize and bounce back,” Hosler said while also giving praise to the organization of his defensive line across the whole 90 minutes.
The final action of the half would fall to senior forward MJ Andrus when she found herself one-on-one with Cili, firing a shot on target that was matched by an even better save. The game was level heading into halftime.
The Spartans began the second half right where they left off, with yet another huge chance on goal in the 47th minute. Wickes found herself free on the top of the 6-yard box preparing to take a shot before she slipped on the wet pitch, forcing her shot off target.
Just moments later, Wickes got another chance to give the Spartans the lead. She fought to finish off a cross into the 6-yard box, but her shot tamely rolled into Cili's hands.
In the 58th minute, senior midfielder Gabby Mueller danced into the 18-yard box showing off some brilliant feet before she fired a shot that called for another brilliant save from Cili.
Seconds later, Mueller returned to give the Spartans their much-deserved lead. Najera laid a pass off to Mueller who skipped past a tackle before curling a shot into the top right corner from 20 yards out. The goal gave Mueller her fifth of the season, while Najera registered her fourth assist of the season.
Hosler went on to give Mueller huge praise after the match.
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“Gabby really came to life in the second half," Hosler said. "She had a good opportunity a moment before, and a quality goal today. She adds a different element to us ... she can turn and get forward quickly."
The Spartans continued to dominate the chances when, in the 75th minute, a corner kick for the Spartans flashed into the 18-yard box. The ball bounced off multiple Illinois and Michigan State players on the goal line before being ushered away by Cili. Play would be shortly halted for review before the referees deemed the call correct.
The final action of the match came in the 79th minute when Najera stood over a free kick at the top of the Illinois 18-yard box, her attempt looking ready to nestle itself in the top right corner before it was met by the outstretched hand of Cili.
With this win, the Spartans are now four unbeaten matches in a row and currently sit second in the Big Ten behind No. 4 Penn State.
The Spartans will be back in action when they face off against the University of Iowa to close out their regular season this Sunday, Oct. 22 at 1 p.m. ET. Streaming will be available on Big Ten Plus.
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