Women's soccer advances past Messiah in PKs

Delia LoSapio dives to make a save. Graphic on left showing 2-2 final score with team logos.

Newport News, Va. -- She had already saved the match, it seemed, a dozen times.

Now was her chance to put it away.

University of Lynchburg goalkeeper Delia LoSapio (Raleigh, N.C.) stepped to the ball and one-timed it into the back of the net for the Hornets' second penalty kick in Friday night's shootout.

Moments later, Messiah's fifth attempt clanged off the crossbar, and Lynchburg's team streaked onto the field in celebration.

A 2-2 draw through 110 minutes of play, three PKs to the Falcons' two, and the Hornets became one of the last eight NCAA Division III women's soccer teams to be playing in 2018.

"That was truly an epic college soccer game. This is what it's all about," Lynchburg head coach Dr. Todd Olsen said shortly after.

No. 17 Lynchburg will face No. 8 Christopher Newport, which eliminated No. 14 Hope, 2-1 Friday, Saturday at 6 p.m.

"I wasn't even sure that we had won," LoSapio said, explaining a moment of hesitation after the decisive missed kick.

Forgive her that, as it was the only time the senior hesitated all evening. She racked up a career-high 10 saves in the biggest match of her life and converted the penalty kick when the team needed her most.

Of course, LoSapio didn't do it alone.

Senior forward Caitlin Mertens (Succasunna, N.J.) scored both of Lynchburg's goals in the first half. The output nearly doubled the goals-allowed total for second-ranked Messiah, which had allowed just three in 21 matches headed into play Friday.

Mertens' first strike came in the sixth minute, a short cross from graduate student midfielder Rachel Cooke (Charlottesville, Va.) finished into the left corner of the net.

Messiah's Brooke Firestone tied the match 10 minutes later, but Mertens broke through again in the 35th minute, chasing down an errant Falcons pass and beating the Messiah keeper with a left boot.

"I've been telling her for four years she can be the best player we've ever had at Lynchburg," Olsen said of his star forward, "and I think she's finally believing me."

With a 2-1 lead at halftime, Olsen switched his lineup to a four-back set -- the first such look for Lynchburg this season -- thinking to hold onto the lead despite a relentless Messiah attack.

If a goal came on a counterattack, great. If not, his group could hold the line.

It worked for 40 minutes.

Then Messiah's Maddie Kohl beat a Hornet defender, who slipped, and finished off the left post to tie the match, 2-2, with 4:35 remaining in regulation.

"My heart just dropped all the way down to my toes," Olsen admitted.

But he quickly added, "The team didn't, though. They showed resilience."

LoSapio explained the mindset on the pitch.

"You could just sense that it was going to be OK," the senior said. "We were going to get it."

Lynchburg mounted attacks of their own, moving back to the normal, three-back look they were accustomed to in overtime, and LoSapio made four would-be-sudden-death saves to get the match to penalty kicks.

The rest happened like a dream.

Mertens nailed Lynchburg's first kick, responding to a make by Messiah's Lilly Shover.

Then both keepers made saves.

After that, it was all Hornets. LoSapio and sophomore midfielder Sarah Wescott (Midlothian, Va.) calmly converted their kicks, while the Falcons missed high and hit the crossbar on two of their next three, pushing Lynchburg along into the national quarterfinals.

It's the first time the Hornets have made it that far in the tournament since 2014, the year of the program's only national championship.

Lynchburg beat Messiah in penalty kicks that season, too.

--LYN--

 

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