By Nathan Keil | Sports Editor
A year ago, Baylor soccer couldn’t quite close the deal against Texas Christian University in the Big 12 Tournament semifinal, letting the NCAA Tournament selection committee determine its fate. Despite having 12 wins, the Bears were left out.
On Sunday, Baylor refused to let someone else decide its fate.
After a late goal by the Horned Frogs tied the game at one and sent it to overtime, junior forward Lauren Piercy got behind the defense and slipped the golden goal past TCU sophomore goalkeeper Katie Lunt for the game-winner, stamping the Bears’ spot into next week’s NCAA Tournament with a 2-1 victory over the Horned Frogs.
Baylor head coach Paul Jobson said it will be a relief to not have to keep his fingers crossed while he waits to find out who the Bears will play this week.
“I’m super excited to know that we’re in no matter what,” Jobson said. “We said, ‘You guys remember flash back to the talk we had before the season started? We said we didn’t want to leave it up to a committee to make a decision.’ And we did that.”
Baylor entered the Big 12 Tournament (10-5-2) ranked 54th in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), a tool used by the NCAA Tournament to rank teams by wins, losses and strength of schedule. Over the course of the past four days, the Bears knocked off the No. 4 seed Texas on Wednesday, the No. 1 seed Oklahoma State on Friday and finally the No. 3 seed TCU on Sunday.
The Bears had opportunities to score early and put the pressure on the Horned Frogs. Baylor led TCU 8-0 in total shots in the first half, including four on goal that Lunt was able to deny. The Bears’ first chance came in the 11th minute on a shot from freshman center midfielder Ally Henderson, but she fired high and over the net. Two minutes later, sophomore forward Camryn Wendlandt turned on a ball off a corner kick, but missed it wide right.
Piercy had an opportunity in the 27th minute and senior midfielder Aline De Lima had the last chance of the first half in the 36th minute, but Lundt came up with stops to keep Baylor off the board.
TCU looked to put the pressure on Baylor with a string of three straight corner kicks beginning in the 53rd minute, but the Bears’ defense held strong.
TCU freshman midfielder Ariana Owens then had a shot on goal, but Baylor freshman goalkeeper Jennifer Wandt continued her stellar play this season by making the save.
After surviving the first TCU threat, De Lima corralled the ball and sent it through the box and junior midfielder Kennedy Brown tapped it into the net, putting Baylor up 1-0 in the 69th minute.
Jobson said Brown, who didn’t even travel with the team last season, is the perfect example of this team’s incredible story.
“If you guys knew this kid’s story and kind of where she’s been with us, from not traveling, to finally traveling, to all of a sudden she’s a starter playing almost 90 minutes and scoring a big-time goal in a Big 12 Championship,” Jobson said. “It’s just another great story that this team has to write. God has done some amazing things for these players this year. She’s just another example of that.”
Baylor held off TCU successfully for the next 17 minutes, but TCU did not succumb that easily.
Pushing the attack in the 87th minute, TCU drew a free kick after Baylor was assessed a yellow card. The following attempt was blocked, but after a second opportunity for TCU was kicked into the hand of a Baylor defender, the Horned Frogs earned a penalty kick and a chance to tie.
Senior defender Ryan Williams delivered a strike to the right side of the net that Wandt could only watch as TCU tied the game at one goal apiece.
Piercy said the Bears’ confidence never wavered after allowing the tying goal. It just gave them the final push they needed.
“It was a bummer that they got the PK,” Piercy said. “But I think that just kind of lit a fire under us. We knew they were better than them, and we just knew to step on the gas even harder.”
Baylor did not give in to the pressure and would not be denied the win as Piercy’s goal in the 94th minute off the assist from De Lima sent the Bears back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012.
Jobson said his team has been fighting all year long and deserved an opportunity to compete in the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s just fantastic. I couldn’t be more excited for these girls,” Jobson said. “I know the work they’ve put in, on and off the field, this year to make this happen. I’m just really proud of them.”
Baylor held the advantage in shots 15-10, including 9-2 on goal. TCU led in corner kicks 6-4.
Senior defender Precious Akanyirige, junior defender Sarah King, De Lima, junior midfielder Julie James and Piercy were all named part of 2017 Big 12 Soccer Championship All-Tournament team. De Lima was named the tournament’s Offensive Most Outstanding Player.
Baylor (13-5-2, 4-4-1) will wait to find out where it plays in the NCAA Tournament. TCU (12-5-3, 6-2-1) will have to wait to see if it is awarded an at large berth.
Baylor will find out who it plays when the NCAA Tournament field is announced tomorrow. The Division I Women’s Soccer NCAA Tournament Selection show is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Monday on NCAA.com.