Erin McNulty ran out of the goal screaming, raising her arms above her head, clinching her fists with her teammates rushing around her.
But she didn’t score the game-winning goal.
She saved the last three.
The No. 1-seeded Penn State women’s soccer team came back from a 2-0 deficit in penalty kicks to defeat Michigan and advance to the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament.
It was DÃ©jÃ vu at Jeffrey Field. The last time Penn State hosted Michigan was on Oct. 21 in the regular season, regulation ended in a 1-1 tie, just like last night. That game also ended in a draw after two 10-minute overtime periods.
But unlike that night in October, there was going to be a winner on Jeffrey Field this time. Both teams had run out of minutes to play and the only solution would be a 1 v 1 opportunity with the goalkeepers in a round of penalty kicks.
Penn State would kick first, they sent out Raquel Rodriguez, a talented freshman who has carried the Lions through set pieces and has made one penalty kick for the team in the regular season. But in the sweet 16 Rodriguez’s strike would be saved by the Wolverines keeper, Haley Kopmeyer who had 10 saves on the night.
Meghan Toohey would be the first opponent to face McNulty followed by Nkem Ezurike who is one of the strongest forwards in the nation this season, both would send the ball flying past McNulty.
Sophomore defender Whitney Church was up next for the Lions, she shot hard, but it was again saved by Kopmeyer. Penn State was down 2-0 in a round of five penalty kicks and the season seemed to be shooting away for the Lions.
It has been said all season long that the upperclassmen carry this Lions squad and it would depend on them to guide the younger players if they believed the could make the national championship dream become a reality.
In order for the dream to stay alive, Maddy Evans, Tani Costa and Maya Hayes would have to be perfect on their penalty kicks and McNulty would have to save three shots in a row.
Evans was next to follow up Ezurike and the captain put the Lions on the board, just like she had done in the 41st minute to give the Lions the 1-1 tie.
The crowd was back in it after Evans attempt was good, but it was now up to McNulty to or the sure miracle of a miss to save the season.
And that is exactly what McNulty did she saved her way to the Elite Eight. Lulu Haidar took her shot at the Penn State keeper, but McNulty was able to control the ball having the momentum swing in the Lions favor.
Still down 2-1 Tani Costa is next in line to shoot for the Lions, looking composed sends one past Kopmeyer. The energy at Jeffrey Field was lifted again. But they were by no means in the clear yet.
McNulty readied herself in the goal again jumping and raising her arms above her head as Shelina Zadorsky sent a shot within reach of the diving Penn State keeper. It was a was, what had once been a 2-0 lead by the Wolverines was now a 2-2 tie after two game changing stops by McNulty.
Penn State had all the momentum with the crowd behind them as Hayes stepped into the box to shoot. The Lions could not have a better person up in that position with 15 goals on the season. Hayes composed herself and shot just past the Michigan keeper, giving the Lions a 3-2 advantage with just one more attempt for Michigan.
It was now just McNulty in goal and Holly Hein in the box with the rest of their teammates and coaches looking on from the sidelines. Hein shot a tough ball, but McNulty guessed the right direction making a diving stop and literally saving the game for the Lions.
Penn State won the penalty kicks by a 3-2 advantage and earned a birth to the Elite Eight after failing to make it past the Sweet 16 last season.
Saving Hayes for the final attempt was a very gutsy move by Penn State coach Erica Walsh, but it paid off in this situation. In a round of five kicks a team may never get the chance to use their final attempt if their opponent sweeps them 3-0 in the first three kicks.
After this dramatic victory, Penn State will host No. 3-seeded Duke on Friday at 7 p.m. in the Elite Eight at Jeffrey Field.
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