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Zias' bid for title denied by Lions

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PORTALES — It looked like a brisk wind might determine Sunday’s winner in the battle for the Lone Star Conference women’s regular-season title. In fact, the only goal was scored against the wind.

Junior forward Jade Bell won a scrum in front of the Eastern New Mexico University net in the 62nd minute and Texas A&M-Commerce made it stand up for a hard-fought 1-0 win over the Zias at the ENMU pitch.

As a result, the Lions (13-5, 7-3 LSC) will host the four-team conference tournament and face fourth-seeded Midwestern State in at 6:30 p.m. (MST) Friday’s semifinal round. Meantime, the third-seeded Zias (9-7-0, 6-4-0) take on second-seeded Angelo State in the opener at 4 p.m.

The championship match will be played on Sunday. Angelo appears to be the only team which does not have to win the conference tournament to earn an NCAA Division II tourney berth, although Commerce is on the bubble.

Playing into a brisk wind on Sunday, the Zias held their own and managed to get the contest into halftime scoreless, but it was Bell’s goal which decided it as ENMU was unable to clear the ball out of danger.

“When you play (Commerce) you have to be perfect on defense,” first-year ENMU coach Omar Morales said. “We made one mistake the whole game, and that (resulted in) a goal.

“We accomplished more this season than anybody expected. We’ve played extremely well.”

The Zias and Lions trailed Angelo (14-3-1, 6-3-1), which finished its regular season on Friday, by one point heading into the match. A tie would have been good enough for the Lions, who had tiebreakers over the Rambelles and ENMU.

“I thought Eastern played very well in the first half and were the better team,” veteran Lions coach Neil Piper after the program’s first regular-season LSC title since 2003. “We made some system changes at halftime.

“We got fortunate on the goal. With these conditions it was rough. I’m glad for us, but I’m disappointed for Eastern.”

Goalkeepers Courtnie Northern of Commerce and Fabienne Wilson of ENMU each made two saves.