WKU wins Sun Belt semifinal over North Texas in shootout

Senior goalkeeper Libby Stout was surrounded by her teammates Thursday after a penalty kicks save that propeled the Lady Toppers past North Texas and into the Sun Belt tournament finals.

Austin Lanter

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Senior goalkeeper Libby Stout had to save a penalty kick to help WKU preserve a win in its Sun Belt Conference Tournament first round match.

A night later, Stout found herself doing the same thing as the No. 4 seeded Lady Toppers and No. 1 seeded North Texas needed a penalty shootout Thursday to decide who would go on to the finals.

Stout came up big again, saving two of five shots to give WKU a 4-3 win over North Texas and advance to the championship game for the second time in school history.

“Going into it I was just trying to be confident,” she said. “I was just trying to do the best I could. It’s a nerve-racking situation, so you just want to stay as calm as you can and hope that you guess the right way.”

The shootout was the third straight Sun Belt tournament shootout that the Lady Toppers have experienced. Last year, they lost to eventual champion MTSU in the semifinals.

“It’s especially nerve racking because we’ve been knocked out the past two years on penalty kicks,” Head Coach Jason Neidell said. “This is the third year in a row its gone to penalty kicks and the third times the charm. Getting that penalty kick monkey off your back feels really good.”

WKU held the edge on shots early, but North Texas took control toward the second portion of the first half, taking three shots in a three minute span.  

North Texas continued to keep the pressure on WKU until the end of the half. With three minutes left, WKU was whistled for a foul and North Texas took a shot from the free kick from over 30 yards out. Stout was able to get a hand on the ball and deflect it into the crossbar and out of play.

Neidell said although the team bent tonight, they didn’t break and concede a goal.

The two teams traded off chances and runs back and forth throughout the second half, but neither were able to put anything too dangerous together.

With six minutes left, WKU was awarded a free kick from about 25 yards out, taken by senior forward Mallory Outerbridge. North Texas was able to clear the ball and get a counter attack together, but was called offsides.

WKU held the advantage in shots in the second period six to four, bringing the totals to 12 apiece.

The two teams remained even in the two 10 minute overtime periods. After 110 minutes, the two teams were still deadlocked at zero and went into a penalty shootout.

“The hype of the situation, the semi finals of the conference, is certainly motivation in and of itself,” Stout said. “We played a lot more composed and focused and we were just a lot more consistent. We didn’t play the best we can, but our defense held strong and we did what we needed to do.”

Sophomore midfielder Chrissy Tchoula, who made one penalty kick, attributed the win to the will to win from the team.

“We played hard and we had spurts of good soccer,” she said. “Those spurts just got us over the edge and to victory. Honestly it was just our will. I think we really, really wanted it so thats why we got it.”

The Lady Toppers will face No. 2 seeded Florida International at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Sun Belt title game. 

According to Tchoula, it’s going to take near perfection to win.

“There’s no do-overs,” she said. “Our saying for this year is ‘conquer the moment,’ and this is our moment. We only have one game to play, there’s nothing beyond this. we’re going to need perfection every single minute. This is what we play and work for so we need it.”