WALLA WALLA, Wash. – Two goals from Emily Fellows – both on assists from Emma Vukic – kept Linfield’s hopes for a first-ever Northwest Conference Championship alive as the ‘Cats beat Whitman 2-1 Friday afternoon at the Whitman soccer complex.
With just 30 seconds remaining in the first overtime period, a shot from Vukic rebounded off of Whitman keeper Emily Davis, and Fellows was there to follow it into the net.
Linfield (15-2-2, 11-2-2 NWC) has had a flair for the dramatic all season long; this marks the Wildcats’ fourth overtime win of 2012.
The Missionaries (5-12-3, 4-9-3 NWC) got off to a quick start, as Clara Merlino notched her fourth goal of the season on a seventh-minute shot from the left side of the field to make the score 1-0. Jaclyn Rudd assisted on the play, with the goal coming just one minute after Linfield keeper Taylor Collinsworth was forced to save a shot from Merlino.
Neither team had a set advantage after the early goal, though Linfield managed two shots – one each from Fellows and Vukic – through the middle minutes of the first half.
Whitman closed out the first half with a heavy attack, taking three shots in less than a minute. The Wildcats’ back line, led by Lauren Pyrch and Emily Allison, was able to thwart the threat, as one shot missed wide and the next two were both blocked.
Neither team won a corner kick in the first half, and the Missionaries outshot the ‘Cats 8-4 over the opening 45 minutes. Collinsworth recorded a pair of saves in the first, while Davis was well protected and did not have to make any stops.
No stranger to playing from behind, Linfield opened the second half aggressively, winning four consecutive corner kicks. While none of the crosses from Vukic were converted, the series of plays acted as a precursor for action to come.
In the 58th minute, Vukic curled a cross into the box and Fellows volleyed a shot into the net to bring the ‘Cats and Missionaries even at 1-1.
Linfield kept the pressure on throughout the second, controlling the pace and driving 12 total shots towards the Missionaries’ net. Whitman struggled to clear the ball out of its defensive end, but the home team managed to hold off the 'Cats through the final whistle of regulation.
Despite an immediate shot and ensuing corner kick to open the first period of overtime, Linfield could not build its attack and there were few threats throughout the period. Finally, just before the buzzer sounded, Fellows put away the game for good with her NWC-leading 18th goal of the season.
On the game, Linfield outshot Whitman 18-11 and won six corner kicks. Davis made six saves while Collinsworth was forced to make just two.
‘CAT SCRATCH: The win marked Linfield’s fifth come-from-behind victory of the season…the ‘Cats have swept Whitman three years in a row and have won seven straight overal...with the victory, Linfield set the program record for wins in a season (15) and matched the single-year record for NWC victories (11)…the Wildcats have allowed just 10 goals this season; the program record is 14.
WHAT THIS MEANS: Linfield moved into sole possession of first place in the NWC, totaling 35 points. However, second-place Puget Sound (34) has two games remaining, while the ‘Cats have just one, Saturday at Whitworth. In the simpliest scenario, involving no tiebreakers, Linfield must beat the Pirates (third place, 32 points) and hope for a Puget Sound loss in one or more of the Loggers' final two matches.
NEXT UP: Linfield travels to Spokane for what could be the decisive match of the 2012 Northwest Conference season. Kickoff against Whitworth is set for noon.