The University of New Mexico women’s soccer team pulled off a dramatic late comeback against Fresno State in the first round of the Mountain West Conference tournament, beating the Bulldogs in penalties 5-4 Tuesday night.
“I’m just so proud of them,” UNM head coach Heather Dyche said after the game.
The Lobos had already improved upon last season by qualifying for the Mountain West Conference tournament. UNM nearly took the second seed this year but missed out after losing 4-3 to San Diego State last Friday.
The fourth-seeded Lobos played the Bulldogs earlier this season in conference play and won 1-0 through a game-winning goal from senior forward Claire Lynch.
But Lynch, who has scored 10 goals this season, received a second yellow card in the 74th minute, signaling an automatic red card and ejection. Still, the late setback didn’t prove to discourage the Lobos, who had started the game on the front foot through a goal from senior forward Eileen Zendejas.
Zendejas’ goal in the 16th minute gave the Lobos a short-lived lead. In a span of five minutes later in the second half, Fresno took a 2-1 lead.
In the 34th minute, sophomore midfielder Tori Nicolo made the most of a pass from sophomore forward Julia Glaser and equalized for the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs went on to score their second goal in the 39th minute — Glaser again at the center of the action. The sophomore brought down a goal kick from UNM sophomore Emily Johnson, then charged into the final third and set up senior forward Myra Delgadillo, who fired the ball into the far corner past Johnson.
The score remained 2-1 at half time, and Lynch’s red card midway through the second half only made UNM’s job that much more difficult.
Then, three minutes from the final whistle, the Lobos equalized.
Sophomore midfielder Jessie Hix, after receiving a pass from freshman forward Alexa Kirton at the top of the box, lofted the ball over the Fresno State goalkeeper, tying the game 2-2 and forcing extra time.
Neither side was able to find the winning goal in overtime, which meant that the game would be decided in penalty kicks.
A miss from the Lobos in the third round of penalties meant that Fresno State, after having converted four penalties, could win the game with the fifth penalty. Senior defender Angie Weiner stepped up to the spot, but her low shot was saved by an outstretched Johnson.
After five penalties for each team, both teams entered sudden death. Junior defender Jessica Nelson converted the Lobos’ fifth penalty kick, putting pressure on the Bulldogs. If a team scores and the other team misses in sudden death, the team that scores wins.
Leaning back, the sixth penalty-taker for the Bulldogs hit the ball over the goal, giving the Lobos the win.
“This has been our team all year long,” Dyche said. “To go down to 10 and to lose your leading goal scorer and to fight back that way...I’m just really proud to be a part of this team.”
The Lobos will play San Jose State in the semifinal of the conference tournament on Thursday in Las Vegas, Nevada.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @cartron_matt.