PEMBROKE — The fear that comes with playing in a close game can overwhelm some teams.
But not The University of North Carolina at Pembroke women’s soccer squad — not even on Halloween night.
With, perhaps, their season on the line Tuesday in a Peach Belt Conference tournament quarterfinal match against Georgia College, the Braves embraced the fear and earned a 1-0 victory at Lumbee River EMC Stadium.
“That type of game that we just finished is the scariest game you could ever play,” said UNCP coach Lars Andersson, whose team is 9-4-1 in games decided by one goal.
“Statistically, we dominate. We had a number of opportunities to score, especially in the beginning. But that team has two or three high-quality players.”
Earning their third straight one-goal victory, the fourth-seeded Braves (13-4-1) sealed an appearance in the PBC semifinals for the second consecutive season and sixth time in program history. UNCP will take on top-seeded North Georgia in Evans, Ga. on Friday.
With the game against the fifth-seeded Bobcats (11-6) hanging in the balance, it was freshman Alexis Pittman who delivered for the Braves, firing a shot into the back of the net in the 80th-minute for the go-ahead goal.
“It was a very pleasing moment to help my team win and advance to the semifinals,” said Pittman, a Greensboro native.
“It was a great feeling. It’s very intense (playing in close games), but we listen to Lars and (assistant coach Brittany) Padilla and keep our cool. … we find ways to win games.”
After pacing the sideline in another nail-biting match, Andersson said he would prefer more comfortable victories.
“It’s not by choice, that’s for sure,” he said with a smile. “It does make it fun when you end up on the winning side in the end, but I think it’s a sign of a quality team. I repeat myself, but it speaks to the character and mental fortitude, integrity of these kids. “
And he was pleased to see Pittman rise to the occasion for the difference maker.
“What people notice at first with Lexi is that she’s a great athlete, she has incredible speed,” he said. “She’s technically very good on the ball, but I think what’s overlooked a little bit, which is probably my favorite characteristic of Lexi, is her work rate.
“She doesn’t shy away from the big moments. We needed a goal and here she is, a freshman, stepping up to find the game-winning goal.”
The other big moment belonged to sophomore goalkeeper Gina Ryan, who leaped with arms extended for a save to deny Amanda Bartholomew — the league’s top goal-scorer — with five minutes left in the match.
“Gina, for me, is the best keeper in the country,” Andersson said. “She makes a save there that 90 percent of keepers in the country don’t make. In Gina we trust.”
Now, in what Andersson called a “must-win game” in regards to his team making the NCAA Tournament, UNCP will likely be in another tense situation against the Nighthawks.
“I think it speaks volumes for us as a team. Our motto this season is 18 in 17. We have 18 players and those 18 players find ways to win and we get a little creative, we get a little inventive,” he said.
“It’s a little scary, but the only stat that matters is goals scored. We do have a flare for the dramatic, that’s for sure. … We have no excuses this year. We came from the same starting point as North Georgia. I look forward to it. Their coaching staff is great; their players are great. … this is what you want in college soccer.”
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.