Down a goal with eight seconds remaining in the game, Richmond took its fifth consecutive corner kick. The ball bounced like a pinball through the scrum in front of the goal before it was finally tapped into the GW net behind redshirt freshman goalie Miranda Horn.
A whistle blew as it was headed for the netting, and the players held their breaths along with parents and friends lining the hillside and the stands at the GW soccer field. The game clock read all zeroes as word started to spread: the whistle was an offsides call. No goal.
Freed from what would have been a match-altering goal, the Colonials came away with a high-profile conference victory, defeating Richmond 1-0 at home Sunday – but not without giving themselves a scare in the process.
“I’m very happy, but in a sense we got away with it almost,” Horn said. “This isn’t going to fly in the tournament. It’s not just OK, yay, we won. We can’t stop, we have to keep getting better.”
Both ends of the field contributed to the Colonials’ first half goal. After Richmond was awarded a penalty kick in the aftermath of a corner, Horn guessed correctly on the attempt, diving left to slap away a low-line drive from the goal.
On the next GW possession, junior Kristi Abbate marched the ball upfield and drew the Richmond goalie out of the box. Abbate beat her on the left side and placed the ball to the bottom right corner of the open net in a peach of a finish.
“I saw it going in but nobody was celebrating with me at first, so I got really nervous that it hadn’t gone in,” Abbate said. “But once I beat the keeper, I just tried to place it because [head coach Sarah Barnes] would kill me if I tried to shoot it hard.”
Once the Colonials held the lead, they tried to kick their habit of slipping in the later half of games. The end of the first half could have been a harbinger of second-half struggles as Richmond fired two shots off in the final 30 seconds of the opening frame.
GW succeeded in halting the Richmond offense for much of the second half, but in the last 10 minutes of the game, the Spiders went full-court press with a four-man top line. The Colonials adjusted into a 4-5-1 formation but still endured a barrage of shots from the Richmond offense, who entered the match scoring a conference-high 2.14 goals per game.
The Spiders also attempted five corner kicks in the final eight minutes of the game, part of Richmond’s nine corners taken in the game, which ties a season-high for GW opponents.
As one corner after another came into the box, waves of hope and anxiety surged through the crowd. But one by one, GW cleared the Spider attempts, after scouting similar set plays that Richmond had run in past games.
“The reason we were giving up corners is that we were getting to the ball first and the things that we always talk about is that you can know what you’re running and you can be in the right spots, but if you don’t go get the ball you’re going to have a problem,” Barnes said.
Richmond goalie Katie Brennan had shut out her last three opponents and was the reigning A-10 Rookie of the Week before Sunday’s match. But by the end of the afternoon, it was Horn who held the Spiders scoreless in an impressive highlight-reel esque effort.
Horn recorded six saves on the day, including a leaping grab of a laser just below the crossbar to keep the game scoreless in the early stages. She kept the Colonials in the game as they were outshot 15-6 in the game, also giving up nine corners.
“I just go and take a sip from the water [bottle] and take a deep breath and then come back out,” Horn said. “It’s very anxious but we just have to believe that we’re going to get to the ball first, and once each one goes out for another corner we just have to reset.”
With her seventh shutout of the year, Horn helped the Colonials to their 10th win of the season, the most since 2003. The team is undefeated at home with a 7-0-0 record, largely because of its league-leading .83 goals allowed average.
Heart-racing moments and all, GW escaped with an important win heading into the final weeks of the conference season. The Colonials have three games remaining before the conference tournament scheduled to start in early November. GW goes on the road for its next game Saturday at VCU.
“I think the sign of a really good team is that you win games when you’re supposed to and you’re able to hold off opponents in situations like this where they could easily have scored on us,” Barnes said.