There were only six minutes left in the season.
Friday night, against No. 24 Oklahoma, Texas Tech needed to win.
A tie or a loss would end the Red Raiders’ season.
Late in double overtime, Tech midfielder Mary Heiberger kicked it over to freshman forward Jade King, who, from just inside the top of the box, sent a strike to the bottom of the crossbar and into the net for the game-winning score.
“That goal felt like it was coming,” Tech coach Tom Stone said. The Red Raiders hadn’t scored in their previous five matches. “As the play started to develop and Gwennie Puente took off on the dribble, it looked like we were going to have a great chance out of it. That’s when the Oklahoma player made an unbelievable block of a for sure goal.
“Then we kept the ball alive. Three players made smart, simple passes that led to Jade King being able to run onto it and absolutely crush it from about 16 yards out.”
That goal — scored by this weeks’ Big 12 Freshman of the Week — moved the Red Raiders from ninth to eighth in the conference standings which advanced them to the Big 12 tournament as the final seed.
“I think that’s kind of our reputation is being the underdog,” junior defender Rebekah O’Brien said. “We always play really well when we’re the underdog. Coming into the tournament we’re feeling very confident and like we have a chip on our shoulder. I’m really excited to see how we play.”
Big 12 tournament
A year ago, Texas Tech won the whole thing.
But this time, it’s different.
“It seems like a long time ago because we have a new team, new culture, new development,” Stone said. “We had six seniors playing in that game. In games this year we’ve had eight or nine freshmen and sophomores. The emotion we’re feeling right now is that we’re still out here. We’re still training. We’re happy to be alive.”
Texas Tech opens up tournament play against the top-seeded West Virginia at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday.
Merely a few weeks ago, the Red Raiders fell to the Mountaineers 1-0 after West Virginia scored in the 82nd minute.
“There’s certainly areas of the field where we have (matched up well) against West Virginia,” Stone said. “There are certain areas where they have just had their way with us. We’ve talked about those areas and how can we stay competitive in certain areas and try to fix some of the things they create. Part of it is their physical strength is impressive. I can’t make Gabbie Puente 150 pounds, but we can certainly play like we are.”
The Mountaineers come into Kansas City as the Big 12 regular season champs.
West Virginia — led by Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Kadeisha Buchanan and Big 12 Co-Offensive Player of the Year Michaela Abam — is the first school in Big 12 history to finish its conference schedule without allowing a goal.
Stone acknowledged how tough it would be to score against the Mountaineers.
But the Texas Tech coach also pointed to the year when the bottom two teams in the tournament advanced to the finals.
In 2003, No. 7 Oklahoma State edged No. 8 Missouri 3-2 in double overtime.
“We wouldn’t be the first to get on a run if we were to do that,” Stone said. “It’s certainly possible. It speaks to how tight the Big 12 is. The overall level of the Big 12 this year I thought was above average, not phenomenal, but the tightness of game to game was the tightest I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen that many 1-0 games. As usual, the entire season’s standings came down to the last game of the season. A tight league makes for a tight tournament.”
Thanks to the win over Oklahoma, math is now on Texas Tech’s side.
The Red Raiders are currently ranked No. 42 in the RPI.
Just playing the second-highest RPI team in the country in West Virginia on Wednesday, that number will climb up the scale for the Red Raiders.
“I think we’re sitting on the positive side of the bubble zone right now,” Stone said.
Technically, this late in the season, sitting in the 1 to 50 range of the RPI should be considered the positive side of the bubble as Stone mentioned.
Win or lose against the Mountaineers, that number shouldn’t end up out of that range.
“But we need a great performance,” Stone said. “The girls aren’t worried about the numbers. The coaches stress out about that enough. Now we’re just worried about how we can have a great performance against a team that we respect and understand how good they are. If our girls accept the challenge and play all out, we’ll see what happens.”
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