Krista Barikos scored both of Reinhardt’s goals and helped advance the top-seeded Lady Eagles (13-3-2) into Saturday’s 2 p.m. AAC final against sixth-seeded Columbia (S.C.) College.
With a win in the championship game, Reinhardt would receive the AAC’s automatic bid to the NAIA tournament.
“This is our first time in the championship game, so we’re very excited,” Reinhardt coach Andy Kaplan said. “Our goal at the beginning of the year was to win it, and we’re excited, but we have one more game to win to really achieve what we’re trying to do.”
Reinhardt was in control from start to finish Thursday, outshooting fourth-seeded Union 23-7 — including a 10-1 margin in shots on goal — and edging the Lady Bulldogs on corner kicks 5-3.
“Union’s a really good team,” Kaplan said, “We knew it was going to be a tough game. I felt like we did everything we needed to do, which was great, so I’m very excited.”
While Barikos led the way offensively with her two goals, former Woodstock standout Sarah Yoder spearheaded the Lady Eagles’ defensive effort.
It was the first start of the season for Yoder, who stepped into the starting lineup in place of injured defender Diane Prescott, another former Lady Wolverine.
“One of our senior defenders (Prescott), who started every game this year, injured her knee earlier this week, and she didn’t play,” Kaplan said, “so Sarah Yoder, who hasn’t been starting this year, started for the first time and really did well. Sarah really stepped up and did a great job.”
The game was scoreless for most of the first half until Barikos blasted a long shot past Union goalkeeper Stephanie Burton with 4:35 remaining, giving Reinhardt a 1-0 lead.
Barikos increased the Lady Eagles’ advantage to 2-0 in the second half when she scored from short range on an assist from Alex Mahan with 23:13 left in the game.
“Krista, I think she’s the most skillful player in the conference,” Kaplan said. “If we could just get her the ball, we know she could make some things happen.”
Seven minutes after Barikos’ second goal, Reinhardt’s bid for a shutout came to an end when Union’s Helen Weber scored unassisted.
“Our plan was to keep the ball on the ground and connect on our passes, and if we did that, we knew that we should be able to win,” Kaplan said.
Now, Reinhardt is setting its sights on a Columbia team the Lady Eagles beat 4-2 on Oct. 22.
“We just played them a couple of weeks ago,” Kaplan said. “They have a really, really dangerous forward, and they have some nice midfielders. I feel like, if we keep the ball on the ground, keep connecting passes, we feel confident with just about anybody. I tell the girls, I don’t scout that much. I’m worried about us. If we do what we’re supposed to do, keep the ball on the ground and play a skillful game, we’ll come out on top most of the time.”