By AUSTIN COLBERT
There was beginning to be little doubt as the clock approached 110 minutes of scoreless soccer, the game was heading to penalty kicks. The coaching staff knew it. The fans knew it. Even the players knew it. Well, all except Fort Hays State University forward Kelsey Steffens, who wanted nothing to do with it.
"I didn't want to go to PKs. Because I don't want to be the one to miss it," said Steffens, a freshman from Greeley, Colo. "Right before I shot, I was like, 'Kelsey, come on, don't mess up.' But I don't know. Honestly, I can't believe we won."
Steffens' goal with less than three minutes remaining in the second overtime gave the FHSU women's soccer team a 1-0 win over Missouri Western State University on Wednesday at the FHSU Soccer Stadium in the quarterfinals of the MIAA tournament. It was the first time in FHSU soccer history -- men's or women's -- that it had hosted a postseason match.
With the win, the third-seeded Tigers will advance to play No. 2 seed Southwest Baptist University at 7 p.m. Friday in Olathe, at the College Boulevard Activities Complex. SBU (15-4 overall, 11-3 MIAA) is coming off a 3-1 win over No. 7 seed Emporia State on Wednesday.
The winner of Friday's game will play the winner of the 4 p.m. match between No. 1 seed Central Missouri (18-0-1, 14-0) and No. 4 seed Central Oklahoma (13-4-2, 9-3-2) at 11 a.m. Sunday for the MIAA championship and automatic berth into the NCAA Division II tournament. As it stands, FHSU (13-4-2, 10-2-2) will likely need to win the tournament to extend its season, as it sits at No. 7 in the latest Central Region rankings. The top six make the NCAA tournament.
"I'm really, really excited for them. They deserved it. They went out to win it. The other team defended really well, but we did prevail, which I think we deserved to," FHSU coach Craig Shaw said of Wednesday's win over MWSU. "I was wanting to win it. I didn't want to go to PKs, but I was thinking that was the way it was going. But I'm glad Kelsey Steffens proved me wrong."
The Tigers dominated much of regulation, outshooting the Griffons 14-1 in the first half and 21-12 for the match. However, MWSU had a 7-3 edge in corner kicks and FHSU committed 18 fouls to only six for the Griffons.
As the game wore on, so did FHSU. The first overtime belonged to MWSU, which outshot the Tigers 4-1 in the period, an increasingly stronger wind blowing in the Griffons' favor during the initial OT period.
"I was tired as heck," Steffens said about the team's sluggish overtime performance. "As many shots as we can take, we are going to take them. But sometimes it just doesn't go in. It's going to go in one way or the other, whether it's the first half or not."
It wasn't until both teams had seemingly accepted penalty kicks as their fate did FHSU finally break through. With less than three minutes to play, a scoring opportunity opened for the Tigers. It was junior Gabrielle Makatura's cross to Steffens on the left side of the box that set the play up, Steffens receiving the ball with a surprising amount of open space in what was essentially a one-on-one with MWSU goalkeeper Sarah Lyle, one of the best in the MIAA.
It took one strong kick from Steffens before a thunderous herd of Tigers stormed the field in celebration.
"I think she's the best freshman in the conference. She did a great job by taking a touch and finishing great. It was a great ball by Gabby," Shaw said. "I think the first 25 minutes we played the best soccer we've every played. But we did have some nervy moments as well. So to come out with a win with 2 minutes and 44 seconds left is really, really exciting."
The Tigers are searching for just their second trip to the NCAA tournament in its four years of existence. FHSU's only trip to the national tournament came in 2012 after it won the MIAA tournament.