Illini Reach Sweet 16 in Overtime Thriller with #7 Portland, 4-3
Nov. 22, 2013
LINCOLN, Neb. - Illinois (11-8-3) earned its fourth trip to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen with a thrilling come-from-behind 4-3 overtime victory over No. 7 Portland (17-3-1) on Saturday. The Illini battled back from a 2-0 halftime deficit on a snowy Nebraska Soccer Field and netted three second-half goals to send the NCAA second round match to an extra period. Big Ten Forward of the Year Jannelle Flaws connected on the golden goal with a minute remaining, sending Illinois to the NCAA third round for the first time since 2008.
"We are just fighting and truly living up to the name Fighting Illini," head coach Janet Rayfield said. "We were playing good soccer from the start and were getting chances. We told the team at halftime to keep believing and just try to get the goals one at a time. We just kept at it until we could get ones into the back of the net. I give a lot of credit to this team for being persistent."
Following a miscommunication on a Pilots free kick just outside of their box, senior Megan Pawloski stole the ball and passed it to Flaws in the center of the box, who tallied her second goal of the contest and fifth game-winner on the year. The Glenview, Ill., native increased her school-record total to 23 goals, which is tied with Rachel Daly of St. John's for the most in the nation in 2013.
"Megan took advantage of a mistake on their free kick," Flaws said. "I knew if I got myself open in the box she would find me. There were some shots earlier that I think I should have put away, so I was just concentrating on taking advantage of that opportunity, going one-on-one with the keeper in the box."
Portland scored twice on just three shots in the first half, while the Illini were held scoreless on eight shots in the opening frame. In the 12th minute, the Pilots found the net first off the foot of their leading scorer Micaela Capelle, who took a through ball on the right side from Parkes Kendrick and cut it inside the far post. Portland, who carried a 2-0 advantage into the break, scored again in the 27th minute when Danica Evans took a pass from Capelle and fired a shot from the top of the box into the bottom left corner.
Illinois' comeback started in the 54th minute when senior Vanessa DiBernardo nailed a strong shot from the top-left corner of the box into the right side of the goal above the keeper's hands, cutting the deficit in half. Six minutes later, Portland answered back with a goal by Kendrick in the 59th minute to push their lead back to two goals at 3-1.
"That first goal allowed us to realize that we are capable of coming back and that we were still in this game," DiBernardo said. "We just took it one goal at a time and made a comeback that way."
The Illini completed the comeback with a pair of penalty kicks in the final 22 minutes of regulation. DiBernardo was fouled inside the box in the 69th minute and Flaws put away her first goal of the game on the PK. In the 84th minute, sophomore Nicole Breece was taken down inside the box, which set up DiBernardo for the equalizer on the penalty kick, her second goal of the contest and seventh on the season.
Illinois overcame a two-goal deficit for the first time in 2013 and scored the most goals by any team this season on West Coast Conference champion Portland, which had only allowed 15 goals all year. The Orange and Blue defeated a top-10 opponent for the sixth time in school history and first since downing No. 3 Penn State in the 2012 Big Ten Tournament semifinals (11/2/12). It also marked Illinois' first win in its second-ever game against Portland.
The Illini improved to 11-8-3 with their fifth comeback win and moved to 2-1-3 in overtime games this season. UI also played an overtime match in cold weather following a snowfall the night before for the second-straight round in the NCAA Tournament.
"After playing last week in the mud, this felt like a great surface," Rayfield said. "The temperature was more of a factor than the surface today. It played pretty true. Both teams were able to possess the ball. This was a pretty exciting and well-played soccer game to watch."
UI finished with a 24-11 advantage in shots and 8-1 edge in corner kicks. Flaws set two more school records with her stellar performance. She took the most shots ever by an Illini in a game with 14, breaking DiBernardo's previous record of 11 last year, which included seven on target. Those 14 shots brought her season total to 119, eclipsing Emily Brown's mark of 106 from 1999.
Freshman goalkeeper Claire Wheatley made a pair of saves to bring her total to 100 for the year, making her one of just three Illini keepers to ever record triple-digit saves in a season. Former Illini Steph Panozzo (2012) and Leisha Alcia (2004) share the school record for most saves in a season with 111.
Illinois will play Boston College for the first time in school history on Sunday at 1 p.m. in the NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen. It will mark their fourth appearance in the Round of 16, as the Illini also made it in 2008, 2006 and 2004, which was the year UI advanced to the Elite Eight, the best postseason finish in school history. This Illini senior class will play in the third round for the first time after being knocked out in the second round each of the past two seasons and suffering a first round exit in 2010.