BELMONT, N.C. - The Pfeiffer University women's soccer team (13-6-1) traveled to face the second-seeded Belmont Abbey Crusaders (14-3-3) in the Conference Carolinas Championship on Saturday and came away with a win in dramatic fashion. Brae Buster's score during the round of penalty kicks secured the victory and Conference Tournament Championship for the Falcons, who now advance to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in four years. The team will find out its bracket during the NCAA Division II Women's Soccer selection show, slated for Monday night at 7:30 p.m.
Belmont Abbey fell in their ninth consecutive Conference Carolinas Tournament appearance as Pfeiffer avenged last year's 1-0 loss to the Crusaders in the championship.
After 110 minutes of game action, the score was tied at 1 and needed to be settled in a shootout. Kayla Rodriguez, Sarah Yates, Macy Rutledge and Katie Collins all converted the first four attempts for the Lady Falcons. Belmont Abbey went three-for-three on penalty kicks, setting the stage for one of the many dramatic moments of the afternoon. As Belmont Abbey midfielder Siliva Vazquez stepped to the penalty stripe, determined to even the score, it was Halligan who would win the battle. The keeper made a spectacular diving save to her left, denying Vazquez the tying tally. With Pfeiffer's tournament berth on the line, head coach Elijah Denton turned to the Conference Carolinas Freshman of the Year, Buster, who converted with a beautifully placed shot in the upper left corner of the net for the game-winner.
As the Tournament outcome ultimately swung in the favor of the Lady Falcons, the match almost didn't make it to overtime. In the 90th minute of play Belmont Abbey's Ananda Gebreyesus unleashed a flurry of shots on Halligan in front of the Lady Falcon net. The first shot of the barrage orchestrated by Gebreyesus came inside the Lady Falcons' six-yard box and may have been Halligan's most crucial one-on-one save of the entire season. As Halligan dove to her left, swatting away a powerfully struck shot, Gebreyesus collected the ensuing rebound and fired another close range shot only to be denied by the rock-solid back line of the Lady Falcons.
It was the Crusaders who would strike first, in the 40th minute. A through ball was sent into the box and ultimately muffed by Halligan. Crusader forward Robyn Hatcher collected the loose ball and put it into the open net. The half would end with Belmont Abbey holding an 8-4 lead in shots and a 2-1 lead in corners.
The Falcons didn't waste much time in the second half, as Jackson netted the equalizer just under two minutes into the second half. Rodriguez, intent on capitalizing on an early corner kick, sent a cross to Jackson who put a perfectly placed header to the far post for her ninth goal of the year. Each team tried to score the winner in regulation, and had chances, but neither could convert.
For the afternoon, Belmont Abbey held a 15-12 advantage in shots and a 4-3 lead in corners. Halligan made seven saves for the Falcons, while Hannah Kohls made three stops.
After the match, Hannah Hill, Madeline Gadd, Jackson, Collins and Rodriguez were named to the All-Tournament Team, with Rodriguez receiving the Tournament MVP nod.
"We knew it was going to be a difficult game," said Denton. "They have a very good team and beat us earlier in the year. The girls were up for the challenge and were ready for the opportunity. We were able to get a little redemption from last season."
Pfeiffer won't know who they play for a couple of days, but the first round is scheduled to begin on Friday, November 15. According to NCAA.com, the tournament brackets will be released on Monday night at 7:30 p.m. on NCAA.com's Selection Show.