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WVWC womens soccer
Natalie Pireu (left) hasn't missed a PK yet as the Lady Bobcats advance to the Sweet 16 by virtue of three straight shootout victories. (File photo)

Shootout Superstars: Lady Bobcats punch ticket to Sweet 16

WEST CHESTER, Pa. – Is the third time still the charm if you’ve already succeeded on tries one and two?

The West Virginia Wesleyan College women’s soccer team will tell you that the answer is most definitely, “Yes.”

For the third straight game, the Lady Bobcats kept their season alive with a shootout victory, this time beating West Chester in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Wesleyan had reached Sunday’s regional semifinal after beating Concord in PKS a week ago and then advancing over Kutztown in a shootout Friday.

Technically, the Lady Bobcats have won just one of their past five games, since shootout victories are recorded as ties. But they’re moving on to the NCAA Atlantic Region final regardless, where they’ll face top-seeded Bloomsburg in a Sweet 16 matchup on Friday.

Credit Wesleyan’s defense, which has allowed just four goals all season. The Golden Rams dominated play Sunday, firing off 19 shots to Wesleyan’s 12 and taking a massive 13 corner kicks while the Lady Cats had none.

But the Wesleyan back line, which features a mix of both freshman and veteran players, has risen to nearly every challenge. And when they haven’t, the team’s two outstanding keepers – Chelsea Hubner and Ashlee Schumacher – have shown their mettle with huge saves.

In Sunday’s regional semifinal, the Lady Cats did create some scoring chances. Shannon Shawgo rocketed the ball just wide early in the second half, while Melissa Zetty and Natalie Prater peppered the goal with shots throughout the match.

But it was Wesleyan’s scrambling, swarming defense that really stood out, bending but never breaking. West Chester nearly scored several times: a shot boomed off the crossbar midway through the second half and the Golden Rams almost converted in a frantic final minute of regulation after Wesleyan gave up a free kick 25 yards from goal.

Ultimately, the whistle sounded after 90 minutes with the game deadlocked 0-0.

Maybe the most nerve-wracking moment of overtime came early for Wesleyan, when Kayla Fay – already riding a yellow card – was called over to the ref. But he kept the cards in his pocket and instead opted for a few stern words, and Fay was subbed off shortly thereafter.

The remainder of the two golden goal overtime segments were dominated by West Chester, although Wesleyan did have a few good looks, including a shot by MaKatlyn Tucker that went high in the 95th minute.

After all 110 minutes expired with the game still scoreless, Wesleyan lined up for a now-routine procedure: penalty kicks.

But after missing a few shots in their first shootout – the MEC championship against Concord a week ago – the Lady Cats have since been perfect, making all their penalty kicks in the first round Friday and doing the same Sunday, with Natalie Pireu, Prater, Carolyn Saulle and Orian Bar all converting.

Hubner, meanwhile, was heroic yet again, saving two of West Chester’s five kicks to punch Wesleyan’s ticket to the Atlantic Region championship. That game will be played Friday, with the winner advancing to the Elite 8 on Sunday.

This marks the furthest the Lady Bobcats have advanced in the NCAA tournament since 2014, when they lost to West Chester in the Sweet 16.

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