It took 110 minutes and then some, but the Wildcats upset the Southland Conference Tournament’s No. 3 seed in McNeese State, 5-3 in shootout fashion.
Junior defender Caity Acosta drove home the game-winning penalty kick after McNeese’s fourth kick sailed high off the foot of Morgan Middleton.
“Being in that situation is something I’ll remember forever,” Acosta said. “I was nervous, but I knew I could win the game if I made it. So I had to say composed and finish the game for my team who worked so hard for 110 minutes. We deserved to win that game.”
Neither team could break into the scoring column during regular time and overtime, despite a number of early chances from junior forward Dylan Owens. Owens forced a save with a close-range shot early in the second half, but Emma Roccaforte, who was awarded Southland Conference Goalkeeper of the Year showed why with a quick reaction.
As time winded down in regulation, McNeese State had two opportunities, but freshman goalkeeper Erin Smith kept the game scoreless and forced overtime with a little help from her defense. The Cowgirls offense was hampered by the absence of Southland Conference Player of the Year Savannah LaRicci, who was injured.
Each team’s chances were again scarce in the overtime periods, and defense prevailed, despite the team’s putting up a combined 24 shots, 15 of which came off the foot of ACU attackers.
The shootout was neck-and-neck through the first three rounds, as senior Megan Baer and freshmen Michelle Mulrooney and Christina Arteaga each converted. Senior captain Chloe gave the Wildcats a 4-3 lead ahead of the Cowgirls’ miss, and Acosta calmly placed the ball in the top right corner to set up a semifinal rematch against Stephen F. Austin and the Wildcats.
“Getting to compete in the Southland Conference Tournament is so exciting and what we’ve been waiting for,” Baer said. “Yesterday was a long, hard fought game and I am so proud of my teammates. We’ve celebrated plenty but now we know it’s time to move forward and focus on SFA.”
The two teams met in Abilene for Wildcats final home game of the regular season. That game resulted in a 2-0 victory for ACU, and was its first over SFA in five matchups. The goals were scored by Owens and Fifer, and were a product of 18 total shots from the Wildcat attack.
However, the Lumberjacks rebounded to defeat Sam Houston State 2-1 in 2OT to earn a second place finish in the regular season standings. SFA then faced the Bearkats again in the first round of the tournament and came away with a 4-1 victory to force the rematch against ACU.
The semifinal match is scheduled for a 4 p.m. start on Friday, as the winner will clinch a spot in Sunday’s championship and move that much closer to an NCAA Tournament berth.