The Lobos beat No. 1 seed San Jose State University on Thursday night in Las Vegas to book themselves a place in the Mountain West Conference tournament final against San Diego State.
In the first round of the conference tournament, the Lobos managed to come back against Fresno State, being down a player and a goal. Neither side was able to find a winning goal in overtime, and in a tense penalty shootout, the Lobos managed to come out on top 5-4.
UNM showed little sign of fatigue against San Jose State and stunned the Spartans with a goal just before the four minute mark. Junior midfielder Amelia Bierle’s low cross from inside the box found sophomore midfielder Jessie Hix, who put away her eighth goal of the season. Six of Hix’s goals have been headers.
But the Lobos’ early lead was cut short in the 17th minute. Senior midfielder Yaritza Arista one-timed a loose ball at the top of the Lobo penalty area and found the top left corner of the goal, tying the game 1-1.
Despite the response from San Jose State, the Lobos continued to attack and find space in the San Jose defensive third — and in the 32nd minute, retook the lead. Junior defender Jessica Nelson’s flip throw-in was deflected into the far post, and the ensuing rebound was put away by senior midfielder Casey Murphy.
The score remained 2-1 headed into the break, but just under a minute into the second half, the Spartans equalized for a second time.
The Lobos failed to clear a San Jose corner, and the loose ball in the box was eventually flicked in by senior midfielder Sabrina Miller.
The score stayed 2-2 at the end of regulation.
Neither team was able to find the winning goal in overtime, although the Spartans nearly found a winner in the 96th minute, but a crucial block from junior defender Isabella Jimenez kept the Lobos in the game.
The Lobos won the penalty shootout against Fresno State in part because of heroics from UNM goalkeeper Emily Johnson — and against San Jose, she delivered once again.
Both the Spartans and the Lobos converted all their penalties heading into the fourth kick of the shootout. Jimenez put away her penalty, but Johnson saved the subsequent penalty by San Jose.
Johnson’s save meant that all the Lobos had to do to win the game was score their fifth penalty. UNM’s Bierle stepped up to the spot and sent her shot into the right side of the goal, winning the game for her side.
“These kids have worked really, really hard — their fitness, their determination,” UNM head coach Heather Dyche said. “We’ve got ten seniors this year, and they’re just playing for something really big.”
The Lobos will play in the final of the Mountain West Conference tournament on Saturday at 8 p.m. against San Diego State University.
Matthieu Cartron is a sports beat reporter for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers women’s soccer and men’s tennis. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @cartron_matt.