O'Connell's Magical Finish Seals 2-1 Victory
CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Behind a magical strike from freshman Cortney O’Connell with less than 10 seconds remaining in regulation, the Miami Hurricanes came from behind to defeat Clemson 2-1 on Senior Night at Cobb Stadium.
With the score knotted up in the closing minute, a deflected touch from senior Tara Schwitter came rolling towards the center of the field roughly 20 yards outside the Clemson goal. O’Connell one-timed a left-footed curler into the upper right corner, beating diving keeper Kailen Sheridan and clinching the dramatic victory in the regular season finale for both teams.
“I saw the ball coming to her, and in my head, I kept saying to myself, ‘Hit it one time, hit it one time, hit it one time,’” head coach Mary-Frances Monroe said. “All season we had joked with her because she hadn’t struck a ball well with her left foot. She couldn’t have hit it any better today.”
O’Connell’s goal, her second of the season, was the finishing touch on an emotional night for the Hurricanes. Veterans Schwitter and Blake Stockton were honored in pregame ceremonies, and both seniors played pivotal roles in the dramatic win. Schwitter was credited with an assist on O’Connell’s strike, while Stockton scored her first goal of the season in the 86th minute to set the stage for late heroics for the hosts (9-8-1, 4-8-1 ACC).
“I couldn’t ask for two better people. I think they had a lot to learn this season, and I wish I had a few more years with both of them,” Monroe said after the match. “I know they’re going to take the lessons they learned on and off the field through our staff with them growing up into the real world.”
After a sluggish first half that saw the Tigers take a 1-0 lead into the halftime locker room, Monroe and her staff made a tactical decision to move Stockton forward from her normal perch in the backline to a more attacking role. The decision paid off, as the Linwood, N.J. native scored her first goal of the season with less than five minutes to go.
“Her intensity, mentality, wanting to score, to dribble around players, wanting to put the team on her shoulders and score – we’ve been seeing it every day in training for the last few weeks,” Monroe said. “We knew that if we made the move, she would be the one to push forward.”
The Hurricanes nearly saw their night end prematurely when goalkeeper Emily Lillard was whistled for a foul in the box and a penalty kick just four minutes into the second period. With Clemson already sporting a 1-0 advantage, standout midfielder Catrina Atanda tried to beat Lillard to the left to give her side a commanding lead. Miami’s junior keeper was up to the challenge, however, making a diving stop to preserve the one-goal deficit.
“We went into halftime and we said we’re tired of allowing soft goals,” Monro said. “There was no reason we shouldn’t have been marking up and making sure we cleared their first one. I was really proud of the way they responded in the second half.”
Stockton’s tremendous personal effort set up Miami’s equalizer. On a deep run into the box, the senior fell down but managed to touch the ball with her left foot past Sheridan to level the score at 1-1. The goal, which was the fourth of her career, set up a frenzied finish at Cobb Stadium.
Miami’s push for a winner in regulation proved successful, as a broken play fell right into the left leg of O’Connell. The Chantilly, Va., native came through, scoring the most dramatic goal of the season to clinch an unlikely victory for the Hurricanes.
“I was so proud of our team, being down 1-0, to put together a half like that,” Monroe said. “It was an amazing effort in the second half, and it was great to send our seniors out at home on such a high note.”