PEMBROKE — On a rainy, muggy Wednesday at Lumbee River EMC Stadium, Lars Andersson made it clear that The University of North Carolina at Pembroke women’s soccer team was “going for it” against No. 5 Flagler.
“We have a winner’s mentality,” said Andersson, who is in his 17th season as head coach of the Braves.
“That’s something that we (as coaches) instill in them.”
Trailing twice against the unbeaten Saints, the Braves fought back each time, sending the game to double overtime and ultimately a 2-2 draw.
“We told them going into the overtime that it’s not in our DNA to say, ‘You know what, we came back, we scored a goal with a 1:13 (left in regulation) and we’re just going to ride it out,’” Andersson said.
“It’s come back to haunt me a few times in my coaching career, but it’s simply not in my DNA. I think these players feel the same way. They’re winners, they’re champions. … we were going for it. That’s a mentality this team has and that’s a mentality I want. I think that’s the mentality you have to have if you want to be a champion. We told them to go for it and whatever happens, happens.”
Stacey Scott netted both goals for the Braves (7-3-1, 4-1-1 PBC), including the equalizer with 73 seconds left in regulation to help force overtime against the PBC-leading Saints (5-0-2, 10-0-2 PBC).
Down 2-1, UNCP found new life in the 89th-minute when Katy Ryan found Carly Rochelle in the corner, who lofted a cross to Scott on the back side of the box. Scott let the ball fall to her right foot and fired a high strike into the back of the net to knot the game up.
“We threw numbers forward and took some chances,” Andersson said. “We made some adjustments in the midfield to have more of an offensive setup and we got the goal.”
With limited chances for both teams in the first overtime period, the second overtime provided a bit more excitement with the Braves earning a few opportunities in the final minutes.
Looking for the game-winner and a hat trick, Scott got her head on a corner kick from Kristina Stevenson in the 107th-minute, but the shot was blocked away by a Flagler defender.
Stevenson had another opportunity with six seconds left to play, but her corner kick was cleared away by the Saints as time expired.
“I thought we had the better of them in overtime,” Andersson said. “I really thought that one of those corner (kicks) and maybe that last free kick was going to end up in the back of the net.”
The Saints came out of the gate firing, scoring 1:44 into the match to take a 1-0 advantage when Fio Fustagno headed home a cross from Concepcion Sanchez.
The Braves answered in the 13th-minute when Scott leaped and headed in a corner kick from Stevenson to knot the game up at 1-1 heading into the break.
“I’m extremely proud. When you give up a goal 1:44 into the game there’s a chance that the wheels come off if you’re not a veteran team, if you’re not disciplined, if you don’t have the right mentality,” Andersson said.
“We were able to stay mentally focused to draw level going into halftime. To be fair, Flagler dominated a segment there in the second half where they really pinned us in deep and we struggled to get out of our own end.”
The Saints were awarded a free kick from 35 yards out in the 78th-minute and a loose ball in the box was knocked in by Abby Austin to give the visitors a 2-1 lead.
After Scott tied the game with her team-best fifth goal of the season, the Braves had another chance in the final 10 seconds, but Stevenson’s cross was cleared out of the box by the Saints.
UNCP’s Gina Ryan made seven saves in goal, her second-highest mark of the season. She has yet to allow more than two goals in a match this year and her 0.68 goals-against average leads the PBC, as does her .865 save percentage.
“I’m really proud of the kids. It’s a big day for us. This facility that LREMC has allowed us to have now puts us in a position to recruit great players, to attract great players,” Andersson said. “It feels like home. It’s a great facility and a great place to call home.”
The Braves sit third in the PBC standings, two points behind second-place Columbus State and just one point clear of fourth-place North Georgia.
UNCP will be back in action on Saturday against Lenoir-Rhyne at 5 p.m. in Pembroke. Five of its last six games in the regular season are in Pembroke.
“Going forward, I’ve said all along that the Peach Belt is going to be incredibly tight this year. … every game is important and every point is important,” Andersson said.
“Playing No. 5 (team) in the country and coming away with a point, particularly having to change the game late, I can’t complain. Their special players showed up and that’s what great players do — they show up in big games. I think our special players showed up and we end up in a draw. I think that’s a fair result.”
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.