COLUMBIA, South Carolina – The partisan crowd was stunned and South Carolina goalie Mikayla Krzeczowski sat near the net, looking on in disbelief.
Washington State defender Mykiaa Minniss was euphoric, sprinting across the Stone Stadium pitch before sliding to her knees in celebration.
The sophomore had just sent the Cougars to the Women’s College Cup Final Four.
Minniss’ overtime goal Friday lifted Washington State to a 1-0 victory against second-seeded South Carolina (19-2-3) on its home field, extending the Cougars’ deepest NCAA Tournament run in program history.
“Cougs going to the Final Four. How ’bout that?” fifth-year WSU coach Todd Shulenberger said before casting a wide smile at the postgame news conference.
WSU (16-6-1) will face top-seeded North Carolina (23-1-1) at 4 p.m. on Friday in San Jose, California, for a berth to the national title game. Pac-12 rivals Stanford and UCLA meet in the other semifinal.
“We love being an underdog,” said WSU goalie Ella Dederick, who had two key saves. “Everyone doubts us and we prove them wrong.”
A week after knocking off top-seeded Virginia 3-2 on its home field, the Cougars and Gamecocks engaged in a physical national quarterfinal.
Both teams totaled 15 shots, but defensive-minded South Carolina – a team that had yielded only seven goals this season – had two late opportunities to sink WSU.
Due to a pair of fouls in the closing minutes, South Carolina had free kicks but couldn’t convert.
WSU standout Morgan Weaver accounted for five of WSU’s 15 shots, but was shut out against a South Carolina team that hadn’t given up a goal since Oct. 27.
Five minutes into overtime, the Cougars got a corner kick that was headed by the Gamecocks’ Rebecca Koch, who inadvertently sent the ball to Minniss, standing alone near the goal.
Minniss, who has eight total shot attempts this season, roped it into the open net, ending South Carolina’s third Elite Eight run in four years.
“I usually have to stay back to defend, and I looked at coach like, ‘Yeah, let me go, let me go,’ and he’s like, ‘Yeah, go ahead,’ ” Minniss said. “I just came in super late so they didn’t see me, and as soon as the ball came to me, all I was thinking was ‘Oh, you got this.’ ”
The Cougars, who’ve defeated Memphis, Virginia, West Virginia and South Carolina in NCAA Tournament play, finished sixth in the Pac-12 before their historic run.
WSU, which has qualified for the NCAA Tournament in eight of the past nine seasons, is now two wins away from a national title.
“We’re (a) unique style. We’re a fun style and we’re hard to play against,” Shulenberger said. “This team believes all year long we had something special, and our great conference prepared us for this moment.”
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