Women’s soccer falls to Baylor in NCAA tourney

Junior forward Leah Pruitt scored the Trojans’ only goal against Baylor on Friday, but it wasn’t enough as USC lost on penalties. Photo by Emily Smith | Daily Trojan

The ninth-ranked women’s soccer team saw its season end on Friday in a shootout loss to Baylor in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in College Station, Tex.

In the first round, USC had topped Eastern Washington 2-1 in a double-overtime thriller, and the Bears had bested Rice 3-2. The defending national champions’ repeat bid came to an end against Baylor, as the Trojans fell in a penalty shootout after battling to a 1-1 overtime tie.

The first half was a back-and-forth affair, as the Women of Troy outshot the Bears 7-2 but were unable to find the back of the net. Both teams landed a few scoring opportunities, but thanks to stellar play from redshirt freshman goalkeeper Kaylie Collins, the score remained 0-0 through the opening 45 minutes.

The Trojans broke through in the second half, scoring the opening goal in the 72nd minute. Junior forward Erika Okuma launched a cross from just inside midfield into Baylor’s penalty box. The ball found the head of junior forward Leah Pruitt, who guided the pass inside the frame to give the Trojans a 1-0 lead.

The Women of Troy controlled the momentum of the game for the remainder of the second half, with Collins denying a handful of late scoring chances for Baylor. The clock wound down to the final seconds of the game, and it appeared as if USC was going to advance to the third round of the tournament.

But with 27 seconds on the clock, the Bears rocketed a shot on target for the USC frame. Collins made a flying save to deflect the ball onto the crossbar. However, junior defender Sarah King recovered the rebound and buried a point-blank shot into the back of the Trojans’ net, knotting the score with just 16 seconds remaining.

The score held until the end of regulation, and USC headed to its third consecutive overtime matchup (it also went to overtime in its regular-season finale against UCLA). The Trojans saw notable scoring opportunities from freshman midfielder Savannah DeMelo and senior midfielder Nicole Molen, but neither team could best the other in 20 minutes of overtime play. The game would be decided by penalty kicks.

USC won the coin toss and elected to shoot second. Senior midfielder Caitlin Schwartz blew the ball past Collins on the Bears’ first attempt. USC did not answer, as freshman forward Tara McKeown’s shot was stopped by the keeper. Baylor notched another goal on its second attempt; once again, USC followed up with a miss. The third round was scoreless for both sides, and on Baylor’s fourth attempt, King clinched the shootout victory with a shot that rolled underneath a diving Collins.

After a disappointing end to the team’s championship defense, head coach Keidane McAlpine praised a strong Baylor team.

“First and foremost, I have to say congratulations to a Baylor team that showed great fortitude in coming back that late in the game and then finding a way to end it in the penalties,” McAlpine said.

McAlpine also made sure to thank his seniors at the end of a long campaign.

“They just helped us change the program — from the title last year to establishing ourselves this year as one of the top teams in a year where most people did not think we could get it done,” McAlpine said. “I am extremely disappointed for them but at the same time extremely proud of them and the legacy they have left.”

The Women of Troy concluded their season with an overall record of 15-3-2. Although the season may not have ended the way the team, coaches or fans had hoped, the Trojans have now qualified for the NCAA Tournament four years in a row, setting up a bright future for USC’s young, talented roster.