Columbus State junior forward Kelsey Pelletier celebrated her 21st birthday Tuesday night in the best way possible by scoring the match-winning goal for the Lady Cougars in their 1-0 victory over UNC-Pembroke at the Walden Soccer Complex in the opening round of the Peach Belt Conference Tournament.
"It was nice," said Pelletier, who now has four goals and five assists on the season. "(Scoring on her birthday) was a pretty good present. Nicole (Corcione) and Mandy (Janowitz) did a good job of getting open and getting me the ball. (Janowitz) got me a good pass and I just wanted to get it on goal, so I aimed for the left corner of the net."
Pelletier's goal, which came 68:26 into the match, sends Columbus State (14-5) into the PBC Tournament semifinals against Georgia College (9-7-2) Friday at 2 p.m. at Blanchard Woods Park in Evans, Ga. Georgia College advanced to the semifinals by winning, 2-1, at Armstrong Atlantic earlier Tuesday.
"We're playing good soccer right now, but I just wish we were more efficient around the goal," said Columbus State head coach Jay Entlich, whose team put just eight of its 26 shots on goal. "We'll work on that for the next day-plus before heading out (to Evans). However, what it's about right now is outscoring your opponents and we did that tonight."
Columbus State had just beaten the Braves, 2-0, on Saturday afternoon at the Walden Soccer Complex in both teams' regular-season finale and Pelletier said playing the same team twice in four days -- especially after winning the first match -- can affect a team's mindset.
"It's hard," said Pelletier. "I thought we played well (Saturday), but it's hard to play the same team twice in such a short amount of time and beat them. Plus, I think both teams came out with a new mindset because it was the tournament. We were fortunate to win, but they made it tough."
UNC Pembroke (7-10-2) -- which has been beset by injuries all season and was playing a position player in goal due to a season-ending injury to its starting goalie -- played a defensive 4-5-1 formation, preferring to limit the Lady Cougars' passing and shooting lanes at the cost of not generating many scoring chances.
"It's very, very difficult to play a team like that," said Pelletier. "We got some chances, but they have so many people in the penalty area that it was hard to get any clear looks at the goal. In the second half, we tried to put some more combinations together instead of just shooting from distance."
Columbus State outshot the Braves 6-0 in the opening 45 minutes, but the match went to halftime scoreless. The Lady Cougars dominated possession of the ball, generating seven corner kicks to UNCP's none, but they were unable to find the back of the net. Entlich made a few subtle changes at halftime and CSU was able to generate more scoring opportunities before Pelletier finally broke through.
"We changed our shape a little bit and squeezed our forwards in a little bit to create more 1-on-1 opportunities," said Entlich, who earned win No. 160 as CSU head coach with the victory. "UNCP is great at group defending, so we had to create more 1-on-1 matchups. We scored one goal and probably could've scored one or two more, but they really defended well even though they've had lots of injuries. We're just happy to survive and advance."
For the match, the Lady Cougars outshot UNCP, 26-2, and Columbus state keeper Maylyn Parsons had to make zero saves to earn the victory and notch CSU's eighth clean sheet of the season.