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Soccer tops Army, improves to 3-1

Courtesy UTEP Athletics

Jade Babcock, Tess Hall and Azia Nicholson all scored while Sarah Dilling registered seven saves to help lead UTEP to a 3-2 conquest of Army in the championship contest of the 13th-annual Border Shootout at University Field Sunday.

The Black Knights (2-2-0), the defending Patriot League champions and 2011 NCAA Tournament participant, struck first with a tally by Ruthie Ruthernberg (17:18) but the Miners (3-1-0) were not fazed. The home side scored twice in the next nine minutes to rip control of the contest.

Hall’s team-leading fourth tally on the campaign, fittingly off a set piece, served as the equalizer at 21:49. Hall and Babcock then set up Nicholson for the go-ahead goal at 26:51. Babcock pushed the advantage to 3-1 after picking up a ball at midfield and splitting the defense with blazing speed before burying the shot at 76:34.

Army’s Anna Lail managed to coerce a shot past Dilling with 12 seconds remaining in regulation, but it was much more aesthetically pleasing than impactful on the outcome.

The victory caps the season-opening stretch of four straight games against defending conference champions. It also extends the Orange and Blue’s unbeaten streak in the Border Shootout to 15 matches. UTEP is 14-0-1 at the event since 2004, out-scoring the opposition by a count of 49-10 in those tilts.

UTEP enjoyed an overall edge in shots (14-10). The Black Knights had a slim margin (9-8) in shots on goals but Dilling was brilliant throughout, with both goals yielded coming on point-blank chances after some nifty passes.

The two teams traded easy chances in the opening minutes, with Dilling denying Kim An at 8:04 before Linda Rosas corralled a try by Hall at 10:40. Hall had a cleaner look a couple minutes later only to have Rosas secure the save.

A thru ball by the Black Knights’ Brooke Hepfer put Rosenberger in behind the defense. She managed to best Dilling with a shot to the lower right-hand corner.

The Miners were a different team after yielding the goal, overwhelming Army with their energy.

Hall made it look easy as she bent the ball over the wall and into the back of the net on the free kick to erase the deficit while also reinvigorating the crowd of 425 on hand.

A few minutes later, Hall found Babcock with a pass. She turned and threaded the needle to Nicholson. Army was burned by the offside trap, and Nicholson sent it home with a powerful left-foot strike.

Possession was primarily in the central portion of the pitch for the remainder of the period, with the exception of three corner kicks. UTEP had a pair in succession at 39:40 but couldn’t find paydirt. The Black Knights generated a shot off theirs at 42:06 but it was errant.

The visitors had a good opportunity to tie the tilt in the early stages of the second stanza but Dilling was up to the task. She used cat-like reflexes to make a clean, diving save to her right to rob An at 47:11.

Mackenzie German vied to give UTEP an insurance tally with a ball with plenty of pace, but Rosas gobbled it up at 56:29. Army then went back on the offensive, with a sneaky pass setting up Joey Molacek alone in the box. Dilling flew off the line to cut down the angle, squared up and turned away the high-power shot.

Babcock’s speed provided an insurance tally in the 77th minute. Army vied to cut into things but Dilling made three saves down the stretch, including a sparkling one to punch a try high at 85:24. A breakdown in the waning seconds allowed the Black Knights to get it to 3-2 but it was a moot point.

UTEP will return to action when it hits the road to partake in a tournament hosted by UC Riverside. The Miners will face Southern Utah at 5 p.m. MT Friday before challenging the hosts at 2 p.m. MT Sept. 2.