University at Buffalo goalie Laura Dougall usually isn't brimming with confidence at the prospect of penalty kicks, but you wouldn't believe that after she stumped three Central Michigan shooters in the Bulls' dramatic 2-2 (3-1 in PKs) win at UB Stadium in the Mid-American quarterfinals.
With the score knotted at 2 after two overtime sessions, the Chippewas shot first in penalty kicks. CMU senior Kaelyn Korte struck a powerful shot to the right post, but Dougall guessed correctly and pushed it away with two hands. After Brianna Shingary calmly fooled Central Michigan's keeper, the UB keeper was up to the task again, sprawling low to her right to thwart Taylor Potts.
Bulls sophomore Julia Benati pounded her penalty low past the Chippewas' Zoie Reed, giving UB a commanding 2-0 advantage after two shooters. After CMU's Alexis Pelafas and the Bulls' Carissima Cutrona traded makes, Eliza Van de Kerkhove placed her shot wide of the left post, sealing the Bulls' win.
Following the match, UB head coach Shawn Burke called Dougall "lights out," while defender Brianna Shingary dubbed her "the best goalie in the conference." For Dougall, though, advancing in such tense fashion was more relieving than thrilling.
"It's overwhelming," the sophomore goalie said about her responsibility in penalty kicks, "but we practiced them all week, and our coaches were giving us strategies, so I was feeling pretty confident on where to guess, and I felt better today than I usually do."
Some goalies play mind games with opposing shooters, hopping back and forth along the goal line before the shot, but that's not Dougall's style. Standing 6-feet tall, she had a few inches on CMU's 5'10 goalie, and the Bulls' shot-stopper used every bit to her advantage.
"I try to use my body because I am very tall, and I have a long [wingspan], so I try to cover up as much of the net as I can -- that was my strategy."
Never-say-die Chippewas: Although they brought the same squad, this Central Michigan team was far better than the one that suffered a 3-0 defeat to UB two weeks ago. After giving up a goal to the Bulls' Carissima Cutrona in the game's first three minutes, the Chippewas were arguably the better side the rest of the way, as midfielder Madison Pogarch and Van de Kerkhove stood out.
Trailing 2-1 in the closing seconds, the Chippewas mustered one final thrust. A bouncing ball eluded the Bulls' center backs, and CMU forward Pelafas sprung free and toe-poked the ball into the lower-right corner with two ticks remaining. Given the surge of momentum from the exhilarating buzzer-beater, the Chippewas looked the favorite to prevail in overtime.
As the Bulls regrouped on their sideline before the first session, head coach Shawn Burke delivered a sharp message.
"I singled out all the seniors and asked them if they wanted to be done [with their careers]," he said of his challenge. "You saw their body language; [giving up a last-second goal] is such a demoralizing thing in a soccer game that's 90 minutes."
Although the Bulls didn't score in the 20 minutes of overtime, they didn't collapse either. They pinned Central Michigan back in its own end, winning corner kicks and forcing the Chippewas to clear their defensive third rather than build an attack.
"I have to give the girls a lot of credit," reflected Burke. "A lot of teams would have buried their heads in the sand and probably would have conceded there with a team having all the momentum. We were the opposite, we came out with a lot of fire and gusto."
While mental toughness doesn't appear in the box score, UB's gutsy response to a late, crushing goal went a long way toward extending its season.
Where did the offense go?: The Bulls' attack has been maddeningly inconsistent this year.
After scoring a meager four goals over their first five MAC games, the shift of Kassidy Kidd to forward precipitated 11 goals over the next four matches, all wins. Just one goal from two road matches against class teams in Ball State and Miami (OH) was understandable, and three against Akron made it seem like the attack was just fine.
On Sunday afternoon, the Bulls were sloppy. Kidd was held in check until the second overtime, when she finally looked lively. Moira Petrie and Andrea Niper struggled with the Chippewas' quickness in the middle of the park. Unforced errors -- dribbling out of bounds, simple passes that were errant -- were common. Regardless of who Burke turned to up front, no Bull forward consistently threatened.
Deadlocked at 1 entering the second half, the Bulls recaptured the lead from an unexpected source: freshman left back Brianna Shingary. Jumping into the attack in the 55th minute, the crafty Medina, Ohio native dribbled at a Chippewa defender, pushed the ball to her right -- her weaker foot -- and placed the ball high into the right corner of the net.
"I was debating whether to play it to Jules [Benati]," admitted Shingary, who usually tries to pick out a teammate's feet. "But I don't get many opportunities in the game as an outside back, so when I do, I try to make them count."
"She's starting to take over," Burke said of Shingary, who also potted the golden goal against Miami (OH) on Oct. 23. "She has a lot of Jackie Hall in her, with her desire, toughness and doing whatever it takes to win...She's emerged as a leader of this team just by the way she plays, and it doesn't matter that she's in her first year in college."
If it wasn't for Shingary's burst of offense, perhaps Pelafas' goal would have been the winner rather than the equalizer.
The final word: The Bulls' decorated senior class is guaranteed at least one more game, a semifinal contest at tournament host and No. 2 seed Western Michigan on Friday, Nov. 6, at a time yet to be determined.
Ball State, the top seed in the MAC, bowed out on penalty kicks to Akron, leaving the Broncos as the highest-ranked team left. Miami (OH) will face the Zips in the other semifinal, with the winners meeting on Sunday, Nov. 8 for the Mid-American Conference title.
"It's the beauty of team sports," Burke said, summarizing the ugly-yet-dramatic quarterfinal win. "We made some big mistakes that we paid for. Both goals were massive individual errors, and on top of that, we didn't help each other out in the hard times, but we never let it define us. It was not a good performance, but I have to give the girls a lot of credit to get the result."
Email Ben Tsujimoto at firstname.lastname@example.org