Mikayla Krzeczowski sat emotionless on the goal line with her legs stretched in front of her. Elexa Bahr held her neck and looked skyward. Riley Tanner and Lauren Chang held their hips. Grace Fisk chugged a water and walked briskly toward the South Carolina sideline.
Washington State players and coaches leaped and screamed and celebrated.
Seconds earlier, in the 96th minute of South Carolina and Washington State’s Elite Eight matchup at Stone Stadium on Friday night, the Cougars found the back of the net on Cougar defender Mykiaa Minniss redirected corner kick.
After 95 minutes of scoreless soccer, the Washington State (16-6-1) goal sealed a 1-0 victory over the No. 2 seed Gamecocks (19-2-3). With the win, the Cougars advance to play No. 1 seed North Carolina (22-1-1) in the Final Four. Also advancing are UCLA (18-4-1) and Stanford (22-1-0).
“Such a close one,” South Carolina head coach Shelley Smith said. “Both teams, just a well- played game. We battled it out, and that’s what you’re going to find this time of year in the Elite Eight. It was just great college soccer, and someone had to win.
“Unfortunately we were on the losing end of things.”
“Cougs are going to the Final Four,” Washington State head coach Todd Shulenberger said. “How about that?”
It was a physical match that had 11 fouls and other contact plays that could have been.
“It was a battle, for sure. We had to play through that. There were some collisions, there were some things that I think could have been called, some calls made, but both teams battled,” Smith said. “You just have to play through it and pick your time and try to get one.”
Washington State picked its in the opening moments of the first overtime.
On the final sequence, Washington State was rewarded a corner that Gamecock midfielder Rebecca Koch flicked behind her. SC defensive midfielder Jyllissa Harris couldn’t reach it, and it fell toward the right foot of Minniss.
The Cougar defender booted it home before it even touched the ground.
Minniss usually stays back on corner kicks but pleaded with Shulenberger before the play to let her go forward.
“I came in super late, so they didn’t see me,” she said. “As soon as the ball came to me all that was going through my head was, ‘Oh, you’ve got this. Oh, you’ve got this.’
“And then it went in and everyone was chasing me and I was like, ‘Oh gosh, I can’t believe I just did that.’”
Smith said she thought the Gamecocks played “very well, did all they could and played with passion.”
“That’s what you want to see in your team,” she said. “I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Three minutes into the second half, Gamecock forward Luciana Zullo was tackled in the box by Minniss and Brianna Alger, but no penalty was given. Seconds later, Cougar forward Morgan Weaver headed a shot on the Gamecock net that was destined for the top right corner but was punched away by Mikayla Krzeczowski’s left paw.
In the 61st minute, Washington State had another prime opportunity.
Weaver slid a pass between Gamecocks Claire Griffiths, Grace Fisk and Sarah Eskew into the box for Averie Collins, but the Cougar midfielder slid a shot left of the cage.
A minute later, Gamecock defender Anna Patten collided with a Cougar forward and fell to the ground. She stayed on the grass for several minutes before leaving the field and not returning to the game.
“She hurt her ankle,” Smith said. “I think she rolled it pretty badly, so she had to come out.”
Harris was forced to drop back from her defensive midfield position into a center back role, and Sam Chang came on to play defensive midfield.
Similarly to the Zullo takedown, SC forward Riley Tanner was taken down in the box with just over 12 minutes to go in regulation. Again, no call.
With just over a minute to go in regulation, Zullo finally got the call, and Washington State midfielder Makamae Gomera-Stevens was handed a yellow card. An ensuing scramble in the box led to a Gamecock corner kick, but a Koch shot from just outside the box sailed high.
Washington State was feet from taking the first lead just under six minutes into regulation when Cougar forward Elyse Bennett, on the right flank, slid a pass in the box between Koch and Sutton Jones and onto the left foot of Averie Collins, who miskicked a shot wide of the left post.
The Cougars had another prime opportunity in the 29th minute when Weaver shook Gamecock defender Grace Fisk to fall over. But the forward’s shot on net sailed high.
Smith addressed her team in the postgame huddle, as did Krzeczowski, Bahr and Fisk.
“It was very touching. All of us just thanked each other. The group means a lot to everyone,” the coach said. “Not just everyone on the field, but everyone apart of the program.”