With each passing minute at a packed Husky Soccer Stadium on Saturday night, it became evident that one goal would likely be enough to win the NCAA tournament match between Washington and Seattle University.
Because of that, the tension continued to escalate, with one great play or one mistake likely deciding the victor.
That great play came from Shae Holmes, a freshman Washington defender who had not scored a goal all season. That changed suddenly in the 56th minute when she raced to the ball and unleashed a shot from about 25 yards left of the goal.
It went just under the arms of Seattle U goalie Madison Waguespack, and that was enough to give UW a 1-0 victory and send the Huskies into the second round against South Florida in Tallahassee, Fla., on Friday at 11 a.m. PST.
It was the final home game for UW coach Lesle Gallimore after 26 seasons and associate head coach Amy Griffin after 24 seasons.
“It has been really emotional for both us, but we are leaving with our heads held high in the job that we have done here,” Gallimore said. “For this to be our last game (at home), I’m proud of the team for giving me this gift.”
Both coaches expected a good battle. UW (12-6-2) and Seattle U (12-8-2) played 110 minutes without a goal in August and they followed that with a scoreless first half Saturday despite several good chances for both teams.
Seattle U, which had never beaten Washington in 14 matchups and had failed to score in the past eight, made it clear early that this would not be a one-sided affair, getting the best chances in the first 10 minutes.
The Redhawks forced UW goalie Siena Ruelas to make a couple of tough saves, one after a Seattle U corner kick ended right in front of the goalmouth. One shot was blocked and Ruelas saved the next one. She saved another moments later.
Seattle U was outshot 16-4 to the Huskies in a 0-0 tie in August that went two overtimes, but this was clearly a different Redhawks team and their fourth shot Saturday came in the 22nd minute when Jessie Ray, the Western Athletic Conference offensive player of the year, got a one-on-one chance against Ruelas.
Ruelas came out and blocked Ray’s shot, denying the Redhawks again.
UW got a couple of good chances later in the half, but one shot was too high and one was wide left. The Huskies’ best chance in the first half came when Jessika’s Cowart’s close-in shot in the 40th minute was saved by Waguespack, one of her two first-half saves. Ruelas had four first-half saves.
In the 52nd minute, Ray got behind the UW defense, but her shot from close in was wide right. Seattle U missed another good chance a couple of minutes later, which hurt even more when Holmes didn’t miss soon after.
Holmes redshirted last season after an ACL injury 30 seconds into the team’s game last year against Seattle U. She missed the first seven games of this season while still recovering. Holmes got her second start of the season Saturday night and was determined to get a shot on goal, and fortunately for the Huskies, she did not pass up her opportunity.
“Honestly, I was a little shocked,” Holmes said of when the ball got past Waguespack. “My mind was just running with happiness.”
The Huskies’ goal turned the momentum around, with UW controlling most of the action after that until the final few minutes.
Seattle U’s one good chance to tie came in the 87th minute when Ava Benedetti’s shot was just a bit too high. Another Benedetti shot in the final minute was saved by Ruelas, and the Huskies could finally exhale.
Washington knows a little about South Florida, having scrimmaged against the Bulls last year.
“Everyone is so stoked to go to Florida for the next round,” Holmes said.
It was a tough ending for Seattle U, which tied UW in shots on goal with five, and gave its crowd plenty to cheer.
“I told them I was proud of them, and how much character and grit they showed throughout the course of the game,” said Seattle U coach Julie Woodward.