WINTER PARK, Fla. – That, Lion fans, is why you play the game.
Senior goalkeeper Lauren Hudson showed where she stood in the Sunshine State Conference as she stopped two penalty kicks in an unbelievable shootout finale of the semifinal round of the conference tournament. The 4th-seeded Lions advanced to the SSC Championship Game with a 3-1 shootout win over top-seed Rollins College on Friday night from the tight and cozy surroundings of Cahall-Sandspur Field.
After playing 110 minutes unable to break a 1-1 tie, the game immediately went to penalties as the right to advance to Sunday’s championship hung in the balance. Rollins, winning the coin flip and opting to go first, sent Lindsay Giblin into the box where her attempt was promptly stuffed by Hudson.
Saint Leo saw an easy conversion from Francesca Williams and then saw Rollins’ Jessica Mooney ping the post on her attempt as Sian Webster followed that up converting a shot of her own. At that point, the Lions had a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-five heading into the third round.
After Leah Hirsch snuck the ball above a diving Hudson to put the Tars on the board, Hudson, taking a penalty of her own, hit the crossbar to renew Rollins’ hopes.
Not swayed by her miss, the Lions’ senior leader and All-Conference Second Team selection turned away another attempt, this time from the foot of Charlotte Murrell to give Saint Leo the opportunity to close it out.
Head Coach Ged O’Connor sent sophomore Kiki Day to put the wraps on the upset and she would do so in extremely climatic fashion. After the head referee whistled the attempt in play, Day would stand and stare at the Rollins keeper for over five seconds, with a near-capacity crowd falling completely quiet with the anticipation. At the precise moment, Day approached the ball and made little work of slotting it past Rollins’ Michelle Dillingham.
The ending of the match, the first shootout the Lions’ have participated in, was as exciting as the rest of the high-speed, action packed game that literally left both teams dirty, bruised and bloodied.
The 1-1 final score saw both goals come from the boots of players wearing the Green & Gold as the Lions scored a goal into their own net a scant 26 seconds after the opening whistle.
The Lions (15-4-1), caught off guard by a quick Rollins attack, tried to clear a ball across the face of goal when the poorly struck clearance curled into the net, shocking SLU without even a minute coming off the scoreboard.
The unbeaten Tars (14-0-4), who had defeated Saint Leo a short two weeks ago, saw the conference’s Player of the Year, who was not in the starting lineup, check into the game in the 24th minute and score the equalizer only a minute later. Saint Leo junior Hannah Beard’s first shot of the match deflected off of two Tars and into the back of the net.
Both teams had significant chances through the remainder of the game but none bigger than the one Rollins had as the clock ticked down in the first extra period.
As it appeared both teams were content to head into the final 10 minutes of play, Rollins took the ball in the final 15 seconds where Rollins’ Jessica Deese found herself 1-on-1 with Hudson. Hudson cut off her direct angle, but Deese still managed a shot toward goal with only a tick left. The ball would nearly stop right on the line before being cleared off at the horn by senior Lizzie Seedhouse.
If Hudson’s name seems to be frequently mentioned in the game recap, it is because she had her biggest game of the year on the conference’s biggest stage. Hudson posted nearly twice as many saves as Dillingham (7-to-4) and only allowed the goal which her teammates managed to sneak past her. And then there’s the part about allowing Rollins to only convert 1-of-4 attempts in the shootout.
Saint Leo advances to the Sunshine State Conference Championship Game against 2nd seed Florida Southern College which will be played on Sunday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. on the Rollins College campus. The Mocs, who defeated the Lions in double overtime earlier this season, upended the defending conference tournament champion Tampa Spartans 3-2 in double overtime before the Rollins-Saint Leo match began.
Information and links for the multimedia options and directions to the match will be announced on Saturday.