By Jeffrey Swindoll
Baylor soccer is just two wins away from a Big 12 Tournament Championship after a stunning 1-0 upset over No. 2 Oklahoma State on Wednesday. Three of the four Big 12 Tournament matches on Wednesday saw the lower-seeded team win. The only higher-seeded team to make it out of the first round was No. 1 West Virginia with a 2-1 win over TCU.
The Bears face the No. 6 Oklahoma Sooners at 8 p.m. tonight in the semifinals of the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City, Kan. BU and OU met once in the regular season earlier this year. The Bears clawed through their first win in Norman, Okla. in over a decade when they beat the Sooners 2-1 earlier this season. That too was considered an upset and gave the Bears a renewed sense of optimism for the remaining portion of the season. It was one of the Bears’ two wins against conference opponents this season.
In that game against OU in late October, the Bears notched two first half goals to put the win out of reach for the Sooners. To get not one, but two first half goals against a well-versed defense in Oklahoma that didn’t concede many goals at all this season was telling of the potential in the Bears’ offensive production.
The scoreline of their quarterfinal match against Oklahoma State was 1-0, but the Bears could have been up 2-0 or 3-0 easily. Junior midfielder Bri Campos, Baylor’s leading goal-scorer this season, had two of her strikes that hit the back of the net disallowed for what appeared to be two offside calls. Campos’ apparent offside position was marginal, to say the least. The referee made those controversial decisions, and the Bears pressed on to eventually get the goal they were looking for.
At the end of the day, one goal was all they needed.
“We were a little bit unlucky not to get a goal,” OSU head coach Colin Carmichael. “It’s the old cliché, a game of two halves – they were better in the first half, got a goal and held on to it, and we couldn’t get one in the second half.”
The Sooners knocked off the No. 3 Kansas Jayhawks on Wednesday night with a 2-1 win. Just one week ago, OU hosted KU in Norman and won by one goal as well. The Sooners, though ranked lower, felt they had a good matchup with the Jayhawks. The Sooners scored in the first half, putting the hometown team down early. The Jayhawks responded. KU forward Liana Salazar swerved in a beautiful free kick from about 25 yards out into the left-side netting of OU’s goal. Equalizing the score before halftime, Salazar’s goal gave the Jayhawks life for the second half.
Kansas’ only goal came from a dead-ball situation. Other than Salazar’s free kick, the Jayhawks struggled turning their chances into goals. The Sooners got the go-ahead goal on a corner kick that was then finished home by Madeline Brem. Oklahoma survived Kansas’ late push for a tying goal and clinched a spot in the semifinal with Baylor Wednesday night.
“I’m disappointed for the kids because I really felt like we had a chance at winning this one,” Kansas head coach Mark Francis said, “We had a ton of opportunities in the second half but we just didn’t convert. Now we need to rest up, regroup and hopefully get ready to play in the NCAA Tournament.”
Kansas is now forced to wait and see if their outstanding regular season will be enough for them to qualify for the NCAA tournament after a disappointing first round exit from the conference tournament.
The Bears and Sooners are in a similar situation of do or die for the NCAA tournament. Virtually, the only chance either of these teams have at making the NCAA tournament is if they win the Big 12 Conference championship. Baylor and Oklahoma have had mediocre regular season’s at best, but if one of them manages to claim the conference crown in the next two matches then their chances of a national tournament berth are much higher. With numerous Big 12 teams being ranked in the top 25 of the country on a weekly basis, there’s no denying the strength of the conference.
Needless to say, the stakes are high for Baylor and Oklahoma tonight. Their seasons are just one game away from ending and neither team is ready for that to happen. Because of the quick turnaround from the quarterfinal and semifinal only having one day in between, physical recovery is vital to the Bears’ success in this tournament, Baylor co-head coach Marci Jobson said.
The other side of the bracket features No. 1 West Virginia and No. 5 Texas playing at 5:30 p.m. tonight. Texas is coming off a dramatic penalty shootout victory over No. 4 Texas Tech on Wednesday.
Live streams of both semifinal matches are available online at the Big 12 Digital Network (www.Big12Sports.com) for free. The final will be broadcasted nationally on Fox Sports 1 at 3:30 p.m. Sunday.