WHEATON, Ill. — Three goals over the course of two minutes late in the game propelled Wheaton to a 4-2 comeback victory against Washington-St. Louis on Saturday night. With the win, the Thunder (22-1-2) advance to the semifinals of the NCAA tournament.
“Only our seniors have been there, which we have quite a few seniors,” Wheaton head coach Pete Felske said. “But we’re going in just having fun. We’re taking one day at a time. I know that sounds very cliché. But that’s what we talk about in practice every day during the week. We’re going into the national semifinals just humble and gracious and proud to be there representing the Central Region. And we’ll do our best to come home with a couple of wins.”
The early parts of the match, however, belonged to the visiting Bears. Washington’s Jessica Johnson scored just 24 seconds into the game when she intercepted a defensive pass and, in the same motion, chipped the ball over Thunder goalie Kelsey Graham.
That quick goal stood up the rest of the half in windy conditions of 20-25 miles-per-hour. Wheaton led in shots 8-6 in the first half, but Washington were the aggressors for much of the way. The Bears used a physical brand of play to disrupt the Wheaton’s offensive flow and created opportunities with nice passes into space on the wings. Of the 24 fouls called in the game, 20 went against Washington.
The momentum swung firmly in Washington’s favor in the second half. In the 59th minute, Lillie Toaspern dribbled her way from midfield into the 18-yard box and snaked a shot inside the left post to make it 2-0 Bears.
With only 20 minutes left in the game, Wheaton made some tactical changes by moving sweeper Kaitlyn Le Baudour up to the front attack. The move paid immediate dividends. Val Lelle launched a curving cross from the right side into the box that found Le Baudour’s head for a goal at the 72:34 mark of the match. Almost exactly a minute later, Le Baudour struck again on a header goal, this time from Jaime Orewiler to make it 2-2.
Keri Shannon delivered the game-winner for Wheaton at 74:50 as she broke free and smacked a 15-yard strike into the netting.
With the Bears pressing hard for an equalizer in the final minutes, the Thunder added an insurance goal at 85:46. Anna Seabolt fielded a long pass from Erin Strom on the counter attack and found a wide-open Orewiler in front to make it 4-2.
“I wouldn’t know where to start if I had an hour to talk,” Felske said. “Fantastic. It just showed a lot of character from our players tonight. We went down 2-0 and we made some gutsy calls on the sidelines. We took our keeper out like a hockey move. We pushed Bucky up front and she came up big with two head goals to tie the game and we were right back in it. An emotional win, but a hard-fought, tough battle against Washington.”
Wheaton ended up with a 20-10 shot advantage along with a 6-2 lead in corner kicks. Kelsey Graham made four saves to earn the victory. Goalkeeper Clara Jacques saved three balls in take the loss.