For 87 minutes, the pink wall stood tall.
During that amount of time, the injury-plagued Oklahoma State soccer team, dressing in pink to support breast cancer awareness, withstood a dominant No. 16 West Virginia team.
A bullet header from WVU’s Hannah Abraham finally broke the Cowgirls’ resistance, sealing the Mountaineers’ 2-1 victory Friday at Neal Patterson Stadium.
Entering the last three minutes, the Mountaineers had outshot the home team 33-3 and registered eight shots on target to OSU’s two. The most important statistic, goals scored, was tied at one.
“I am never happy with the loss, but I was proud of the kids,” said Colin Carmichael, OSU’s coach. “As depleted as we are in certain areas, our kids gave everything they could. West Virginia is a great team. We knew that coming in. Even with a full group, it was going to be a real challenge against these guys. So to hang in there and have a chance to win late, I was really proud of the effort the kids gave.”
Without main strikers Haley Woodard and Marlo Zoller, who contributed 12 of the Cowgirls’ 27 goals this season, Carmichael had to think outside the box. Defender Kim Rodriguez was pushed to the midfield to pair with Julia Lenhardt. Jaci Jones, Taylor Olson and Grace Yochum formed the front three.
That formula didn’t work, as the depleted Cowgirls (10-5-1 overall, 2-4-1 Big 12) were unable to win the midfield battle. As a result, West Virginia pushed the home team back deep to its defensive half throughout the game.
After several attempts, the Mountaineers (10-3-3, 6-1) received a gift. In the 20th minute, a mistimed clearance from Lenhardt allowed Sh’Nia Gordon to break into the box. Elise Hawn then conceded the penalty as her late-ditch tackle caught Gordon.
From 12 yards, Bianca St. Georges made no mistake to give WVU the lead.
“We had a bad clearance, and it resulted in a penalty,” Carmichael said. “From our standpoint, it was disappointing.”
The Cowgirls were shut out in their previous two matches. Desperately looking for an equalizer against WVU, they turned to a rare set-pieces situation.
From a corner kick, Rodriguez played a short pass to Jones inside the 18-yard box as nearly everyone anticipated a return pass. Instead, Jones shielded the ball and caught Jade Gentile, who ran straight into her. Referee Kyle Phillips gave OSU the penalty, and Rodriguez made the most of the opportunity.
Freshman Grace Yochum said the play leading to the Cowgirls’ first goal after 249 minutes was practiced.
“We worked on that on walk-through on Thursday, and Jaci executed perfectly,” Yochum said. “Colin and Justin (Elkington) and Karen (Hancock), they saw it and they wanted us to do it because we haven’t done that trick play before, and they wanted us to try it.”
The second half was similar to the first with OSU sitting deep trying to hold on while West Virginia put on more pressure as the game progressed. The visitor could have taken the lead sooner, but St. George’s solo attempt was denied when Hawn tracked back to clear the ball off the line.
“It was a good moment because I came off giving up the PK,” Hawn said. “I could have prevented the foul, and I was stuck in my head, so saving that goal, I felt good for my team.”
In the 73rd minute, Stefany Ferrer-vanGinkel tried a laser shot from 30 yards, beating OSU’s goalkeeper Hannah Warner, but the ball found the post. OSU also had several promising looks from counterattacking opportunities, but Olsen couldn’t hold the ball long enough as Woodard and Zoller’s absences were clearly felt.
Abraham’s header with three minutes left finally broke the glass, but Carmichael conceded it had been coming.
“We can’t complain,” Carmichael said. “They kept coming and coming, and eventually we broke.”
The Cowgirls lost their fourth straight game as the Big 12 title has gone mathematically out of reach. OSU will return to Neal Patterson Stadium at 1 p.m. Sunday to face Iowa State.