West Florida holds off Wingate 3-2, advances to second semifinal in a row
WINGATE, N.C. -- West Florida defeated Wingate 3-2 in a matchup of the top-seeded teams from the NCAA South and Southeast regions on Sunday afternoon.
With the victory, UWF advanced to the NCAA semifinals for the second consecutive season and the fourth time in the past six years.
“Wingate is a tremendous team,” UWF coach Joe Bartlinski said. “They tried to play properly and that’s all credit to the coaching, Chip Wiggins.
“Our players were resilient, and I’m very proud of them to battle back with the crowd against us. It was a fantastic, beautiful college atmosphere out here today.”
The Argonauts (17-0-3) extended their conference-record unbeaten streak to 33 and their winning streak to 14. UWF’s longest winning streak last season, during its national championship run, was 13.
The first 20 minutes of the match were evenly played, but UWF was able to capitalize in the 26th minute. Freshman Sara Helgadottir gathered a loose ball at midfield and sent a long shot from at least 30 yards away into the back of the Bulldogs’ net to put UWF up 1-0 with 18:10 remaining in the half.
The Bulldogs (16-3-4) would answer before the end of the half with a header off of a cross into the Argo box to tie things up 1-1 with 38:46 on the on the clock.
But the Argos responded to gain the momentum back before the half. Less than a minute after Wingate’s goal, senior Chelsea Palmer sent a cross to junior April Syme who headed it in to give UWF a 2-1 lead at the 39:10 mark.
“It was a great feeling,” Syme said. “It felt very good to get that game clincher. We have situations like that in practice all the time. We practice it every day.”
Palmer added to the Argos' lead in the second half when she danced around a defender and then bent a shot toward the far post from 25 yards out to give UWF some insurance, up 3-1, in the 71st minute.
Wingate kept the pressure on UWF the rest of the game, but it was a defensive mishap by the Argos that resulted in an own goal with less than 30 seconds remaining that cut the lead to 3-2.
“Defense wins championships, and we need to tighten it up,” Bartlinski said. “We weren’t clean in communication and we created some problems for ourselves. They had some great goals, some great players and they battled back.”
It’s the fifth time in the past six seasons that UWF won at least 17 games despite having two regular-season matches canceled due to poor weather.
Wingate was the fourth top-25 team UWF defeated this season. UWF tied two other top-25 teams on the road in September. After starting the season 3-0-3 in September, UWF went 8-0 in October and 6-0 in November.
The Argos will head to Evans, Ga. to compete in the NCAA championships hosted by the Peach Belt Conference at Blanchard Woods Park on Dec. 5.