STILLWATER, Okla. — With its 18th shutout of the season, Oklahoma State advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Championship for the second consecutive year by knocking off Maryland 1-0 Sunday afternoon at the Cowgirl Soccer Complex.
The second-seeded Cowgirls are 22-1-2 on the season and will next face No. 1 overall national seed Stanford Friday in Stanford, Calif. The Cardinal are the lone unbeaten team in the NCAA this season with a 22-0-1 record.
OSU becomes just the second team in Big 12 Conference history to make back-to-back quarterfinal appearances, joining Texas A&M, who achieved the feat in 2001 and 2002.
“It’s a great feeling,” OSU head coach Colin Carmichael said. “It was a tremendous game. Maryland plays in the ACC, which is undoubtedly this year from top-to-bottom the strongest conference so they play a lot of good competition. They’re a good team, great in possession. We wanted to contain them a little bit and not allow them as many looks at goal, which I thought we did well.”
For the second consecutive game, OSU got the only goal it needed from senior Annika Niemeier.
That score came early as just 3:56 into the match, Niemeier took a pass from Colleen Dougherty, turned on her defender and sent a shot to the far post past Maryland goalie Yewande Balogun.
“I just gave it a shot,” said Niemeier, who has four goals this season, all of them coming in the NCAA Tournament. “I actually didn’t expect it to go in because it was going through all the legs on the back post, and the goalie didn’t even do anything. I didn’t think it was going in, but it did.”
Maryland (12-6-4) looked poised for the equalizer less than two minutes later after Danielle Hubka was fouled in the box and the Terrapins were awarded a penalty kick.
But OSU goalie AD Franch came up huge, diving to her right to save the penalty kick of Ashley Grove and keep the Terps off the scoreboard.
“It comes with practice and seeing different types of PKs and just hanging in there for your team,” said Franch of the clutch save. “I just had to read and react, and you just do whatever you can in the moment.”
Added Carmichael, “I was not surprised (Franch) saved it. Most penalties are probably 90-10 score, but with her it’s 50-50. We see that in practice all the time.”
With the momentum in their favor following the score and Franch’s save, the Cowgirls nearly added a second goal late in the half. During a 12-second flurry, OSU recorded three shots, but Balogun made a pair of clutch saves to keep the score at 1-0.
OSU, who outshot UM by a 17-12 count, had several other near misses in the second half. In the 51st minute, a leaping Balogun saved a blast by Krista Lopez off the crossbar, and with just over 12 minutes remaining, Balogun kicked the ball away from Megan Marchesano on a 1-v-1 opportunity for the Cowgirls.
For OSU, the 1-0 victory was their 11th win of the season by that score, while Franch set a school record with her 12th shutout of the year, besting her previous record of 11 set during her freshman season in 2009.
The Cowgirls next set their sights on the nation’s top team, with the goal of the first College Cup appearance in school history on their minds.
“You can see it from the reaction after the (Maryland) game; last year these guys were in the crowd jumping around, and this year, I know they’re happy, but we feel like this is where we belong,” Carmichael said. “We’ll play Stanford and it’ll be another tough game, but it’ll be a game we’ll expect to win, at least have a chance to win if we play well.
“The sky is the limit for these guys. We know next weekend will be a 50-50 game. That shows. They were excited, but it isn’t as if we’ve accomplished something this season. We’ll look back on this, win or lose next weekend, and it’ll be a great season. But for these guys, Final Four and the national championship is what we really want.”