Entering Friday’s game against Carroll College, the undefeated Southern Oregon women’s soccer team hadn’t been scored on by a Cascade Conference opponent this season.
The Raiders can no longer make that claim.
Not after Saints senior Natalie Johnston, with 4:05 to play in overtime, lofted a penalty kick just inside the left post. The golden goal gave the Saints a 1-0 win in their regular-season finale, completing an undefeated conference season with a mark of 8-0-3. The Raiders, who still have three games remaining, fall to 7-1-0.
“To be honest, I just remember setting up for my shot,” said Johnston, one of eight seniors on the team. “After that, it was kind of a blur. Then I just remember looking in and it was going in on the side post.”
As the ball settled into the net, SOU keeper Kylie Moltzen crumpled to the grass at the post, distraught, as the Saints streamed from downfield and from the bench to mob Johnston at the top of the box.
“It was just amazing having my team there,” she said, having to pause as the team swarmed past her and once again offered their whoops and cheers. “Unreal feeling. Just super special. And to be an undefeated team is awesome.”
Being undefeated also gives the Saints a chance to repeat as Cascade Conference champs, depending on what the Raiders do in their remaining games. In order to claim the regular-season crown, Carroll needs SOU to drop another match or pick up two ties in their last three games.
Victories, or even ties, will be tough to come by for the opposition, though, Carroll coach Dave Thorvilson believes.
“I think today proved who the best two teams in the conference are,” he said. “Southern Oregon is an exceptional team. They’re athletic front to back, and I knew they were gonna cause us some problems. I just also knew that we would get some opportunities.
You know, their first five minutes -- I’ll be honest -- scared me. And part of that’s Senior Day and emotions and everything else. But they’re just a good team and they wanted to win. But we settled down, relaxed, started playing, and it turned into a game that was between the two 18s where each keeper had to make a few saves.”
Carroll keeper Jamie Carter, en route to her 10th shutout of the season, made four saves. But the Saints made it considerably tougher on Moltzen, who finished with eight saves.
Pressuring the visitors nearly the entire game following those opening minutes, the Saints created several scoring chances and corner kicks in the first half. Both teams had five shots in the first 45 minutes, but all of Carroll’s were on goal, compared to just two for the Raiders.
With two minutes to play in regulation, a Carroll corner kick resulted in a ball pinballing through traffic. Somehow it eventually snuck through, but was grabbed by a diving Moltzen.
That pressure continued into the extra time, where Carroll earned another corner kick with 5:29 to play. Several Saints tried to take a shot, but the ball never emerged from the pack. Fans were begging for a foul to be called in the middle of the scrum, but they were applauding less than a minute later when another corner kick did, indeed, induce a penalty.
That set the stage for Johnston’s game winner.
“You hate to see a game end on a PK, for either team,” Thorvilson said. “But us pressuring them and pushing numbers in and causing an opportunity like that to get the PK is great on our part. And obviously to have a senior put it in the back of the net on Senior Day at home and get a win is what you want.
“This group of seniors, all eight of them, have had a tremendous impact on the program over their four years. And to see them finish the regular season against such a quality team and come out with a win kind of sums up their careers. And really, I hope this now gets us focused for what we need to do in postseason play and hopefully a chance to go back to the national tournament.”
The Cascade's regular-season champion gets the conference’s first automatic bid to the 32-team NAIA Championships. The second automatic bid will be awarded through the conference tournament, set to run Nov. 4-7 in Springfield, Oregon.