Kennedy Kieneker is in her fourth season with the Arizona Wildcats, so even when Washington State scored an equalizer in the 69th minute and threatened to spoil Senior Day, she knew not to panic.
“I was a little disappointed, but we still had (21) minutes left,” she said.
And, sure enough, the Wildcats prevailed as they always seem to do on their home turf. Amanda Porter answered with a goal from distance in the 72nd minute, propelling Arizona to a 2-1 win over the Cougars.
The Wildcats are now 8-1-2 at Mulcahy Stadium this season and 5-0 in their last five games decided by one goal.
“I knew we had it ... because I know our team,” Kieneker said.
“Once they scored,” Porter added, “we just knew we had to get it right back. We’ve gone down before (during) this season and we know how our attitude needs to change.”
The sophomore netted a bending, left-footed shot from 25 yards out, not unlike Jill Aguilera’s golden goal against Utah a few weeks back.
This team just has a flair for the dramatic, it seems.
“Well, we practice a lot of shooting,” Porter joked. “Sometimes it’s just luck.”
Amanda Porter with an absolute rocket to put the Cats back on top! pic.twitter.com/twlwi7qwbh— Arizona Soccer (@ArizonaSoccer) October 21, 2018
Whatever it was, it capped off a phenomenal weekend for Arizona, which was able to complete the sweep of the Washington schools. They had been winless in four straight entering the weekend and were open about how much they needed a pair of wins.
“We were kind of in a slump and these past two games helped us get back on our feet,” said senior Taryn Siegele.
Siegele ignited Arizona’s offense in the 61st minute, dribbling along the left side where she sent a cross to Hannah Clifford inside the 18. Clifford’s close-range shot was deflected by the keeper, before trickling to the feet of Brynn Moga, who tapped it in for the game’s first goal.
It was Moga’s second tally in as many games. The junior was the hero Thursday night when she notched the golden goal in a double overtime win against Washington.
The crazy part: Those were her first goals ever at Arizona. How do you explain that?
“I don’t know. It just happened,” Moga shrugged. “There’s no secret. Just working hard.”
But the Cougars wasted little time countering and Maegan O’Neill snuck a shot from the right side inside the near post less than eight minutes later.
“I thought we started the game really well, the energy was good, we created some chances, didn’t put the ball in the back of the net early, and then it turned into a typical Sunday grind-it-out game,” said UA head coach Tony Amato.
“(WSU) came back into the game a little bit and started to create a few chances, and that point we needed to grab a goal and we did. Then they answered back and credit to our team for continuing to stick at it.”
Surprisingly, the match ended in regulation, a running joke after Arizona’s previous four home games all went to double overtime.
“Usually we talk about playing 90 minutes, but we’ve just done away with that,” Amato joked. “Let’s assume it’s going 100-something minutes and we’ll find a way to win.”
But Arizona’s defense was just too stout to allow another equalizer. The Wildcats finished with a 15-7 shot differential and prevented any real scoring threats after Porter’s heroics, aside from a floating corner kick that goalkeeper Lainey Burdett leaped to snag in front of the net.
“I think we have a resilient group who’s willing to grind out those things and fight in those battles and find a way to win,” Amato said. “Porter popped up with a great finish and we managed the game well down the stretch to limit their chances when were up 2-1 and killed the game off, so it’s a real credit to the team.”
As with any Pac-12 win, it was big one for the Wildcats, who improve to 10-4-2 overall and 3-3-2 in the conference.
Arizona is guaranteed to finish over .500 and continues to have an RPI inside the Top 25, meaning they are in line to make the NCAA Tournament, barring a total collapse in their last three games.
“I think we’re in good shape,” Amato said. “Today was really important and really the whole weekend. It was important to get both wins, then we push onto Oregon State on Thursday. No easy task to go on the Oregon trip and play both of those schools, so I like where we are as of today, but if we go out and don’t perform well next weekend, it won’t feel that way.”
For UA’s four seniors, who have a chance to reach the postseason for the third time, Sunday’s win was an ideal way to complete their final regular-season homestand.
“It’s definitely bittersweet,” Kieneker said, holding back tears. “It’s really cool to get the win … but it’s sad because I’m going to miss this place.”
Those sentiments were shared by all the seniors, who reflected on the fond memories they’ve created and the friendships they’ve formed throughout their careers, but it might be premature.
That’s because Arizona will get at least one more chance to make some Mulcahy Magic if they fare well enough down the season’s final stretch.
The nation’s top 32 teams host the first round of the NCAA Tournament and Amato believes his team will fall into that group when all is said and done.
“I’m going to be optimistic and say that our seniors will get to play here again,” he said. “I think we’ll find a way to get a few wins and end up back here.”
.@amanda_plz13 scored a ridiculous game-winning goal from distance to lift @ArizonaSoccer to a 2-1 win vs. Washington State: “Once they scored we knew we just had to get it right back.” pic.twitter.com/mLQrUYY8Jy— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) October 21, 2018
Senior midfielder @KKieneker on beating Washington State in what could be @ArizonaSoccer’s final home game: “It’s definitely bittersweet. It’s really cool to get the win...but it’s sad because I’m going to miss this place.” pic.twitter.com/qyIGrA42GX— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) October 21, 2018
Tony Amato on @ArizonaSoccer’s NCAA Tournament chances after beating WSU: “I think we’re in good shape. Today was really important. ... I’m gonna be optimistic and say that our seniors will get to play here again.” pic.twitter.com/5kLOq21WVL— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) October 21, 2018