GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- Sonja Ballmert converted a penalty kick in the 47th minute as Tusculum defeated Lincoln Memorial 1-0 in the South Atlantic Conference women's soccer opener for both teams Wednesday evening at Pioneer Field.
The Pioneers (3-1-0, 1-0-0 SAC) preserved the win over the Railsplitters (3-2-0, 0-1-0 SAC) when freshman Kenzie Ellenburg cleared the potential tying goal off the line with just over eight minutes remaining. Goalkeeper Hannah Graham finished with six saves in her second shutout of the season for Tusculum, which earned the 299th win in the program's history with the victory.
Most of the action in the opening portion of the game took place in the middle third of the field, as neither team registered a shot until the 15th minute. Lincoln Memorial had the first best chance to score with 19 minutes gone as Graham thwarted Isa Jara from 10 yards away off a cross.
Ballmert recorded the first shot for the Pioneers exactly midway through the half, which seemed to spark the Tusculum attack. Jordan Newby nearly broke the ice with just over 11 minutes left in the half, but her shot to the far side of Railsplitter keeper Brooke Taylor clanged off the left post. Tusculum had six unanswered shots at goal until LMU's Palisa Chipendo missed wide right in the final minute of the half.
With just under two minutes elapsed in the second half, the Pioneers caught a break as Cheyenne Upton was brought down in the box for a penalty. Ballmert stepped up and fired a shot that went off Taylor's hands and into the net for her first goal of the season and a 1-0 Tusculum lead.
Lincoln Memorial looked for the equalizer in the 55th minute, but a shot by the Railsplitters' Caroline Souza just missed wide to the left. Graham was up to the task on a 20-yard blast from Chipendo in the 67th minute, and the teams cycled through subs and corner kicks over the next 15 minutes.
With 8:09 left, the Railsplitters' Souza directed a shot that went past Graham but was volleyed out of the air by Ellenburg, who then lofted the ball away from danger to keep the Pioneers on top. Graham added two more saves on shots by Gabby Garcia in the 83rd minute and Souza in the 85th minute.
Each team finished with 13 shots in the match, with LMU holding a 7-5 edge in shots on goal. The Railsplitters were whistled for 10 fouls to six by the Pioneers, while Tusculum had eight corner kicks to six for Lincoln Memorial.
Taylor finished with four saves in the match for the Railsplitters, who had eight players play all 90 minutes and used just two substitutes in the contest. Chipendo had a match-high four shot attempts for LMU, while Carlie Thornber paced the Pioneers with three shots at goal in the match.
Tusculum will be on the road for its next two matches, starting Saturday at 5 p.m. at Lenoir-Rhyne.