Women’s Soccer: BU survives Lehigh in shootout, advances to PL semifinals

By Sam Robb O’Hagan

For a brief moment above Boston University women’s soccer, the sky began to fall.

BU (7-6-6, 4-3-2 PL) was on their heels, trailing Lehigh (7-5-5, 4-4-1 PL) 2-1 with half an hour left in the Patriot League quarterfinals after conceding two surreal goals in a game they had dominated. The sky above them opened, pouring rain on Nickerson Field as the Terriers’ season began to slip.

But the heroics of BU’s best carried the Terriers back to a 2-2 tie, and eventually, a 2-1 penalty shootout win. First it was senior forward Abigail McNulty, one of two Terriers named first team All-Patriot League, who delivered a perfect cross to put BU through on goal to win a penalty. 

And then from sophomore midfielder Giulianna Gianino, BU’s other first-team selection, who slotted the 77th minute penalty into the side-netting to send the game to overtime.

The rain above, pouring during the 20 minutes following Lehigh’s goal, suddenly cleared.

“It was a huge team effort,” McNulty said. “Just incredible to see how hard we fought throughout the whole game.”

Two anxious overtime periods later, junior goalkeeper Celia Braun, a third team All-Patriot League selection, saved three penalties to send the Terriers back to the semifinals for the fourth-straight season.

“I approach [penalty shootouts] as most of the pressure is on the shooter,” Braun said. “By keeping that in the back of my head and just letting myself be in the moment and keeping my head clear, it helped me.”

BU was, at times, inches away from being sent home from the Patriot League tournament without a ring for the fourth-straight year. Last season, BU’s playoff loss came away to Bucknell—in a penalty shootout.

“They’re mentality monsters,” head coach Casey Brown said. “That is, and has to be, in the DNA of BU women’s soccer, and I think we’ve showcased that consistently.”

The Terriers’ mentality has been tested throughout the season. But in a season of highs and lows, BU has climbed out of the valley every time. They did it again on Sunday, as a slow start to the second half put them behind 2-1 after a dominant, 10-shot first period.

“The cohesion of this group is so strong,” Brown said. “I think when you feel that you always got people behind you and together I think there’s a real power in that and a power in the collective.”

“So when we have to deal with moments, it’s the same thing,” Brown said.

BU controlled the first half, picking apart Lehigh’s defense with long balls out wide to McNulty and junior forward Morgan Fagan. When isolated in one-on-one opportunities on the flanks, McNulty and Fagan glided past defenders with ease, finding windows to put a cross into the box or take a shot themselves.

In the 11th minute, a creative corner routine from the Terriers left senior defender Kayla Ross wide open in the box, who tapped in a loose ball to give BU the lead. It was Ross’ first career goal in her 80th game with the Terriers.

“We have different people on the end of every cross every single time,” McNulty said. “So it’s not one individual that makes it all happen, it’s a total team effort.”

But the Terriers, flying high for most of the first half, suddenly crashed to earth. In the 30th minute, freshman forward Aminah Baruwa guided a driven cross through traffic into the top-netting to equalize with the Mountain Hawks’ fourth shot of the game. 

It was a stunning goal in a game that, to that point, had been played almost entirely in the other half of the field.

Then, with the momentum turned on its head, BU conceded again in the 58th minute, this time failing to clear their lines as a corner kick pin-balled around the box in what was eventually recorded as an own goal.

In the 20 minutes that followed, BU’s attack, dominant for most of the game, fell silent. The Terriers went into the half with 11 shots, but almost 30 minutes after the restart and suddenly trailing by a goal, the Terriers had recorded just three more attempts. 

Then McNulty, carrying the ball down the left flank, saw what no one else on the field did. Sophomore forward Natalie Godoy was open in a small central pocket, and McNulty’s cross was placed perfectly, sending Godoy through on goal before she was taken out from behind. Gianino converted the penalty, and the Terriers again had life.

“The biggest thing is being able to take risks and knowing we all have each other’s backs,” McNulty said. “I picked my head up and saw Natalie on the move, and why not give her a chance?”

The Terriers survived two 10-minute overtime periods, which included a Lehigh shot that came off the inside post—inches away from sending BU home—before Braun smothered three penalties to see the quarterfinal out and avenge last season’s shootout exit.

“Obviously last year was not the way we wanted to go out, and just mentally I think we’re in a different space this time,” Braun said. “We all realize we’re in this together, if you’re shooting or not, and I think we all had confidence in each other.”

The Terriers will travel to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania to face Bucknell in the semifinals on Thursday at 7 p.m., in an exact rematch of last season’s semifinals. It will be another opportunity for revenge in a year that BU hopes is different after three-straight playoff exits.

“I think the mentality is so much stronger going into this postseason,” Brown said. “It’s such finite details that separate people but I think you have to have the stronger mentality, the way you respond and deal with adversity.”

For now, though, the final image from Nickerson Field on Sunday is all that matters — BU piled on top of Braun, all 27 players together, alive to see another day, the sky above them clear.

“I think the greatest thing is we’re all in it together,” McNulty said.