Hallie Pearson took a deep breath and swung her right leg with all her might, launching a long free kick into an unusually gusty wind.
The ball floated 50 yards before dropping into the penalty box where Arizona knocked it in for the game-winning goal in the 62nd minute of a 2-1 victory over Oregon State.
“I knew it was going to get past everyone and I don’t think they’re as good in the air as we are, so I was just really hoping someone would capitalize on it,” Pearson said.
She didn’t think it would be Jada Talley.
“She won’t head the ball,” Pearson joked. “She doesn’t like it and she admits to it.”
Besides, Talley rarely ventures deep into the box on set pieces. The UA forward is usually told to hang near the top so she can pounce on loose balls that trickle out.
Not this time. Talley ignored her coach’s instructions, crashing toward the goal to put herself in the right place at the right time to net Pearson’s free kick with her right foot.
“Paul (Nagy) always tells me I’m the second layer so I’m supposed to be there if someone heads it out,” Talley said. “But I was like, ‘you know what, I’m going to go in, we’re tied.’ I got the ball and it went into the net, so he probably won’t tell me that anymore.”
Head coach Tony Amato had no problem with Talley’s tactics because, well, they worked.
“A forward is a forward,” he said. “You want to score goals and she just anticipated where the ball was going to go, and it worked out well for her. So I generally tell her if she’s going to do her own thing, if it ends up in the back of the net, I do not care. And that would be the case today. As long as it ends up in the net. I’m not gonna say anything.”
It was Talley’s second goal of the match and team-best ninth of the season. In the 29th minute, the junior bolted onto a through ball from Brooke Wilson, took a few dribbles and slid a shot inside the far post to knot the game at 1-all.
“We just made eye contact and then I just hit the corner,” Talley said. “I’m used to playing that ball.”
It was the latest example of Arizona’s resiliency. Three minutes earlier, Oregon State’s Sydney Studer had given the Beavers an early lead. Thursday, Arizona beat Oregon 5-2, pouring in three late goals after the Ducks twice tied the game.
“And then today, same thing,” Amato said. “We went down a goal, and we just stuck to it. We weren’t rattled, we didn’t get tight, and we were able to respond and come back and win the game. So I thought that was where we showed the most growth this weekend was finding consistency and dealing with some of those tough moments, tough stuff in both games.”
Pearson said the Wildcats are comfortable in those testy situations.
“Just because of the type of players everyone on the team is,” she explained. “We want to see everyone succeed, and it’s just grown over the season, especially from last year to this year. This is my second year and it’s just really cool to see how positive everyone is. You just want to help each other, you want to always win that second ball for the person that’s going to attack the first.”
Arizona outshot Oregon State 15-7, locking the Beavers (10-4-2, 2-4-2) in their half for most of the day, thanks to some strong play in the midfield.
OSU managed to create a couple of dangerous chances in the final moments, including a shot off the post, and nearly tied the game later on a looping free kick from Brooke Mobeck in the 87th minute.
But Arizona goalkeeper Hope Hisey slapped the shot over the crossbar, atoning for the goal she conceded earlier in the match when a free kick from OSU goalie Bridgette Skiba sailed through Hisey’s hands into the stride of Studer, who tapped it in with ease.
“So I figured, ‘okay, this is my chance to step up for my team,’” Hisey said. “And I saw [the free kick] dipping below the bar, and so I figured the safe bet was just tip it out and then defend the corner.”
The corner kick rolled out of bounds and Arizona (10-4-3, 4-3-1) held on for an important win. By sweeping the Oregon schools, UA’s RPI figures to climb well above the 37-mark it was entering the week, meaning it is now in prime position to host the first round of the NCAA Tournament if it can avoid a collapse in its final three games.
Arizona faces Cal and No. 2 Stanford on the road next weekend before capping the regular season at home against last-place Arizona State.
“Thursday is going to be tough, Cal has been winning a lot of games, but we put ourselves in a good place in terms of the momentum coming out of this weekend,” Amato said. “So we feel good about it and that’s our focus now.”
Early senior day
The Wildcats conducted senior day ceremonies Sunday, even though they have (at least) one more home game left. The early celebration is done, in part, to avoid making the ASU game an overwhelming spectacle.
Arizona has eight seniors. Three of them—midfielder Kelcey Cavarra, outside back Morgan McGarry, and center back Samantha Falasco—are starters.
Cavarra said Sunday’s win was special.
“I think we played so great as a team and I’m really proud,” she said. “It being senior weekend, it means a lot to win at home with all of our families here. So it was really cool and I’m just really proud of everybody.”
Talley said the Wildcats’ underclassmen wanted to send the seniors out on a high note.
“I’m gonna be a senior next year so I would want my team to play how we played today,” she said.
Senior midfielder @kelceylc3 on @ArizonaSoccer beating Oregon State 2-1 on Senior Day: “We played so great as a team and I’m so proud. ... It means a lot to win at home with all our families here.” pic.twitter.com/1S51MlSryW— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) October 27, 2019
Two more goals today for @jadatalley_ in Arizona’s 2-1 win over Oregon State. She knocked in a long free kick from @hallieepearson for the game-winner.— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) October 27, 2019
Sometimes ignoring your coach’s instructions pays off pic.twitter.com/xmqd2ZXArB