By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
COLLEGE STATION, Texas - One thing's clear, this Baylor soccer team's not ready for the season to end.
On the brink of elimination for the second time in the last five games, this time against defending national champion USC, the 23rd-ranked Bears (14-5-3) got an equalizing goal from Sarah King with 16 seconds left in regulation and then dominated a penalty-kick shootout, 3-0, Friday night in an NCAA Championship second-round game at Ellis Field.
"This group has just such a never-say-die mentality, and they're going to put everything out there," said Baylor coach Paul Jobson, whose team will face Notre Dame (10-6-5) at 6 p.m. Sunday at Ellis Field in the Bears' second-ever Sweet 16.
"They put it out there for God and they put it out there for each other, and that's what they've been playing for all year. That's how we've approached every game, and that's what we're going to continue to do."
At the Big 12 Championship two weeks ago, Baylor trailed Texas 1-0 late before getting a tying goal from Lauren Piercy with just over two minutes left in regulation and then a golden goal from Julie James in the first overtime period.
This time, it was literally down to the wire.
All USC (15-3-2) had to do was hold on to a 1-0 lead for one more minute and the ninth-ranked Trojans were home free.
It looked like Leah Pruitt's header goal in the 72nd minute was going to stand as the game-winner until King scored her third goal of the season and ninth of her career off a pass from James after Caitlin Schwartz's long kick that was saved by goalkeeper Kaylie Collins.
"That's just a total Baylor goal," King said. "I think it hit off the cross bar and Julie tried to kick it in. And then, I don't know, it was kind of a scrum in there, a deflection and then I just poked it in. That's just a testament to how hard we work, whether it's 90 minutes, 100 minutes, 110 minutes or PKs, we're just out there grinding until we get the win."
Senior midfielder Aline De Lima nearly ended it in the first minute of the first overtime, getting a breakaway opportunity with a run up the middle and sending in a shot from just outside the penalty box that caromed off the cross bar.
"I really thought that was in," Jobson said of De Lima's potential golden goal. "I thought the wind might actually bring that down and put it under the bar. I think it was a momentum-building opportunity for our team when that hit the bar. Not that there wasn't to begin with, but I think there was a little more belief after that. It gave us a little bit more wind beneath our sails to keep pushing through to end this."
The Trojans' Sydney Johnson hit the cross bar near the end of the second overtime, a period they dominated in shots, 4-1.
"We just had to keep them in front of us and make sure they couldn't get behind us, or they could place it well in the back of the net," Baylor senior defender Delanie Davis said. "I think our defense did a great job stepping up tonight and blocking any shots and getting your face into the ball and just working for each other."
USC coach Keidane McAlpine said it was obviously disappointing to give up the late lead, but "I thought we rebounded pretty well and got back up and got back in the game."
"I'll give them a lot of credit, because that's not easy, knowing you've got the game in hand, you can taste it, and then to have to turn around and play again. That was rough."
Still tied at 1-1 after two overtime periods, things got even rougher for the Trojans in the penalty-kick shootout.
Decided by one-on-one kicks from just eight yards out, "it's kind of in the shooters' hands," said Baylor freshman goalkeeper Jennifer Wandt said, who made several punch-out saves in regulation. But, none bigger than when she smothered Tara McKeown's shot to the middle after senior defender Caitlin Schwartz gave the Bears a 1-0 lead with a shot into the right corner of the net.
"It's a momentum-builder, and the team gains a lot of confidence behind that when your keeper makes the first step. It gives you the advantage and you kind of ride that a little bit," Jobson said. "She doesn't get nervous, she kind of has ice In her veins."
In the second round, James sent one high over the cross bar, then the Trojans' Savannah DeMelo's kick was wide of the right post.
"I'm not a huge fan of PKs, I've been on the wrong end of them quite a few times," McAlpine said. "But, at the same time, it's part of the game and our players have to be able to execute in that moment. And we weren't able to do that today."
After Davis gave the Bears a 2-0 lead with a kick into the right corner, Wandt came up with another huge save when she dove to her right and tipped away Amanda Rooney's kick.
"It was kind of fun," Wandt said. "I don't really get nervous for PKs, because it's kind of in the shooters' hands, but just went the right way and it fell into place."
Needing just one more goal in the last two rounds to close it out, King drilled a left-footed kick to the left corner that slipped by Collins, setting off a celebration by the Bears.
"We practice them every day, we've been there a thousand times before," King said, "so just pick your side, be confident and put it in the back of the net."
Davis said the key is to go up there with confidence and think, "I've got to choose a side or choose a tactic and just go with it."
"You can't second guess, or you'll slip up or something," she said. "I think you're at an advantage, being eight yards away with just one person in the net, so you just have to put it away."
Now, the Bears will try to make the Elite Eight for the first time in program history. In 2012, they had a 1-1 draw with eventual national champion North Carolina in their only previous Sweet 16 and lost the penalty-kick shootout, 4-2.
"Obviously, we're stoked," Jobson said. "We want to give God praise, whether we win or lose or tie, whatever the case may be. Just really proud of what we were able to do at Baylor and appreciate the support. Baylor Nation was here tonight, which was awesome, but I couldn't be more proud of this team."
Notre Dame took sixth-ranked and second-seeded Texas A&M to penalty kicks as well, after a 2-2 draw through the second overtime, and dominated the host Aggies, 4-1, in the shootout. The Irish improved to 2-0-3 in road games against ranked opponents.
"Massive win for us," Notre Dame head coach Theresa Romagnolo said. "To come out in OT and raise our level and keep fighting . . . the composure on the PKs was exceptional. It was a pretty special performance from these guys."
COLLEGE STATION, Texas - Baylor soccer (14-5-3, 4-4-1 Big 12) had another trademark late rally, tying the match, 1-1, with 16 seconds left in regulation, going on to advance on penalty kicks over No. 9 Southern California (15-3-3) on Friday evening at Ellis Field on Texas A&M campus.
In a highly physical and competitive match, the Bears fell behind on a late goal by the Trojans in the 72nd minute. USC's Leah Pruitt headed home the goal on a cross deep into the box from Erika Okuma, getting behind the BU defense to net the go-ahead score.
Down to the final ticks of regulation, the Bears kept pushing, getting a break on a sequence in the 90th minute.
After battling through two overtime periods, the teams moved into penalty kicks, a first for the Bears in 2017.
After James missed the frame on her kick, the Trojans returned the favor, hooking their approach wide to keep the 1-0 BU advantage.
Delanie Davis put the Bears up 2-0, with Wandt making another epic save to allow BU to control its destiny with a fourth-round kick for King.
Once again, the junior defender played hero for the Bears, lacing in her point for BU, punching Baylor's ticket into the third round.
*Baylor notched its ticket into the third round of the NCAA tourney for the first time since 2012 and the second time in program history.
*Baylor improved to 4-3-3 all-time in NCAA tourney action.
*Baylor junior defender Sarah King scored her third goal of the season and the ninth of her collegiate career.
*Baylor junior midfielder Julie James recorded her fourth assist on the year, making it an even 10 in her BU career.
STAT OF THE MATCH
00:16 - the amount of time remaining in regulation on Baylor's game-tying goal from Sarah King, the latest goal scored by the Bears this season.
Baylor awaits the result from the second game of the College Station site, playing the winner of No. 6 Texas A&M and Notre Dame on Sunday, Nov. 19, at 6 p.m. at Ellis Field in College Station.