EDWARDSVILLE — Alex Gallagher and Misericordia got a kick out of playing double overtime.
Especially when it led to a championship.
A hard-fought women’s soccer MAC Freedom Championship title game between local college rivals Misericordia and Wilkes, ended in double overtime with a penalty kick from Gallagher to the upper right corner as Misericordia upset the Lady Colonels, 1-0 at Schmidt Stadium.
Heading into the match, Wilkes captured the No. 1 seed in the tournament for the first time the program’s history. Misericordia upset them as the No. 2 seed, and avenged the team’s regular season loss to the Lady Colonels.
“It was sweet because we knew that we were better than them in the regular season. Not to sound cocky, but we know we are. Today we showed them that,” senior goalkeeper Alyssa Pojero said.
The Cougars claimed their fifth MAC Freedom title in their sixth championship match appearance in the past seven years. In addition to dropping the regular season game to Wilkes, Misericordia was ranked No. 18 nationally.
“I think the difference in this game was that we were playing a team that kind of stole one from us earlier in the year,” head coach Mark Stauffer said. “Typically, we have been in these final matches before. We were fortunate enough to have the confidence going into the game this time that we played the team already, and that we had positive results against them.”
Wilkes nearly scored a goal 15 minutes into the game when Megan Lercara centered the ball into the box and Emily Wirth played it, but the official ruled that Wilkes knocked the ball loose from the goalkeeper’s possession.
The Lady Colonels found another scoring opportunity mid-second half when Nicolette Towlen took the ball out of the corner. She passed it to Elise Brubaker for a shot from right in front of the goal, but it was blocked by a defender.
The block set up Elena Denger for a corner kick that was passed out to Aislinn Speranza. Speranza sent a shot from deep that was deflected by Pojero, causing another Wilkes corner kick.
Late in the second half, the Misericordia offense picked up the pace with Gallagher firing one shot that went wide left. On the following attempt, Gallagher sent another shot that goalkeeper Courtney Stanley saved.
“As a whole, we performed awesome. We did not let up, we kept the intensity high and we just played hard leaving it all out on the field,” Pojero said.
Lady Colonel Dianna Connor found herself in front of the goal with only eight second left in regulation and only Pojero to beat, but the save sent the game into overtime.
Halfway through the first overtime period, Misericordia’s Jackie Stevens tapped one over to Hannah Larkin who then centered the ball, but it was not capitalized on. The Cougars missed the opportunity as the ball rolled across the open net.
The defensive game soon became physical as players started to become frustrated. The officials called a penalty on Wilkes, which set up Gallagher’s winning free kick about 15 yards out and to the left. She shot the ball up and across to place the ball in the upper right corner of the net, just beyond Stanley’s fingers.
“Playing it on the road is a little bit different. I think it was a challenge, but we invited the challenge,” Stauffer said. “We wanted to see this match again, and the fact the we were going on the road to do it, even though it wasn’t too far away was still a challenge for our kids. To win one on the road is extra special, especially after all of the injuries we had.”
Misericordia’s team lost five different players this year — each of them to an ACL tear. The injuries adjusted their style of play to a balanced offensive attack, which involves more players.
“The kids that stepped up and played a role for us this year that probably wouldn’t nearly have played as much time otherwise won this game for us. It was a team title whether players stepped on the field tonight or not. The win was really for everybody.”
With the conference championship title, the Misericordia players now look ahead to the NCAA tournament.
“It feels good because I am senior going out with a win. Especially a championship for a senior is sweet. Now it is time to dominate the NCAAs and make a great run for the NCAA title, ” Pojero said.
Misericordia 1, Wilkes 0
Double overtime — 1. MIS, Alex Gallagher, 102:57.
Shots — MIS 10; WIL 10. Saves — MIS 6 (Alyssa Pojero); WIL 1 (Courtney Stanley). Corner kicks — MIS 1; WIL 3.