SAN DIEGO, CALIF. - Junior forward Kealia Ohai's overtime goal in the 105th minute Friday night lifted 14th-ranked North Carolina into the 2012 NCAA Division I Women's Soccer Tournament championship game as the Tar Heels knocked off top-ranked Stanford 1-0 in double overtime in the national semifinals. The game was played before 7,289 fans at Torero Stadium on the campus of the University of San Diego.
Carolina will play in its 24th NCAA championship game in the 31-year history of the tournament on Sunday when it meets sixth-ranked Penn State Sunday at 1 p.m. PST (4 p.m. EST) at Torero Stadium. The Nittany Lions advanced to their first-ever NCAA final by defeating fellow No. 1 seed Florida State 2-1 in overtime in the first semifinal game Friday night.
Friday night's semifinal game was a hard fought game throughout the 90 minutes of regulation. Both teams had good chances to score although the Tar Heels might have had an edge in possession. Through regulation UNC had outshot the Cardinal 14-13 and had a 3-2 edge in corner kicks. UNC was on frame through most of that time with Stanford's Emily Oliver making seven saves in regulation and UNC's Adelaide Gay making four.
But the overtime was a different story as the Tar Heels took over the game and plowed through for the eventual game-winner in the 105th minute. UNC outshot the Cardinal 6-0 in the two overtime periods and were it not for three extra sessions saves by Oliver the Tar Heels might have prevailed earlier. Carolina also benefitted in overtime from having fresher legs as UNC head coach Anson Dorrance used six substitutes during the game to only three for Stanford.
The winning goal was set up on a run down the middle of the pitch by New Zealand National Team player and Carolina freshman midfielder Katie Bowen. Bowen fed a ball to the feet of Crystal Dunn, who has been all-everything for UNC in the NCAA Tournament. Dunn gathered the ball in and despite having a defender on her hip she kept her balance and sprung Ohai free on the right side of the penalty area. Ohai never hesitated, used her speed to get behind everyone and from 12 yards out on the right she lasered a shot across the frame. The ball struck the left stanchion but was hit with such pace that it bounced across the goal and into the right side netting.
It was Ohai's team-leading eighth goal of the season and her second game-winner of the campaign.
Carolina has been making history in the NCAA Tournament in many forms after finishing the regular season 10-5-2 overall. The Tar Heels have now advanced in three successive overtime games. Prior to this year Carolina had never played more than one overtime game in any single NCAA Tournament. After wins over Radford and Illinois, the Tar Heels got by #9 Baylor 4-2 on penalty kicks after playing to a 1-1 double overtime tie. Last Friday in the quarterfinals, UNC prevailed 2-1 over #3 BYU on a golden goal by Dunn in the 107th minute of play off an assist by Ohai. On Friday, it was the combination of juniors Ohai and Dunn that again produced overtime magic for the Tar Heels.
Both teams felt each other out in the first half with the Tar Heels posting seven shots to five for Stanford. Oliver had four first half saves for Stanford and Gay had three for Carolina. UNC had good opportunities from distance in the first half but was not able to get anything past Oliver. Meanwhile, the UNC defense and Gay rose up to deny the Cardinal. In the 13th minute, Stanford earned a corner kick by Courtney Verloo leading to a header from the six-yard line by Mariah Nogueira that was calmly played off the goal line at the last second by UNC sophomore defender Caitlin Ball. Then in the 37th minute, Stanford's Lo'eau LaBonta tried to catch Gay off her line after a clearance by the UNC goalkeeper, launching a 45-yard shot that was destined for the back of the net before Gay hustled back and made a remarkable save on the ball.
In the second half, Stanford was vexed by its inability to put its best chances on frame. A shot by Chioma Ubogagu rolled tantalizingly across the crease in the and wide in the 48th minute. Two minutes later, after a Cardinal corner kick was redirected back into the penalty area, LoBonta got behind the Tar Heel defense and sent a shot from six yards that popped just over the bar.
At the 52:56 mark, UNC appeared to be ready to take the lead as senior Maria Lubrano fired a shot from 18 yards out on the left side that was headed with pace into the upper right 90 before being tipped away at the last second by Oliver. In the 83rd minute, Sydney Payne of Stanford had a look from the left side of the box from 15 yards that went just wide right.
That set up overtime where it was all Carolina. In the 94th minute, Oliver made an amazing save on a shot by Amber Brooks from the 15-yard line, just tipping over the rocket off the foot of Brooks from point blank range. In the second overtime, Oliver came up big on an excellent chance by Ohai in the 102nd minute and stopped a shot from Dunn in the 103rd. Eventually the Tar Heels broke through and improved their record in NCAA semifinal matches to 24-2.
North Carolina (14-5-3) defeated Stanford (21-2-1) for the second time in the last four years in the NCAA Tournament. The Tar Heels also beat the Cardinal 1-0 in the 2009 NCAA championship game in College Station, Texas. The Tar Heels are now 9-0-3 all-time against the Cardinal.Carolina has now defeated four teams (in five games) in the NCAA Tournament who had not lost a game since the weekend of August 25-26. Radford, Baylor, BYU and Stanford were all one-loss teams on the 2012 seasons before being eliminated by the Tar Heels.