The Hoyas’ NCAA ambitions took a potentially fatal blow on Sunday at North Kehoe Field, as the Blue and Gray tumbled to a heartbreaking 1-0 double-overtime loss to South Florida (12-4-3) in a Big East tournament quarterfinal matchup.

Georgetown (13-6-1) was coming off a big weekend that saw the team take four of a possible six points from home games against DePaul and No. 4 Notre Dame, while clinching a No. 2 seed in the tournament. The Hoyas were unable, however, to sustain their momentum against a gritty South Florida team that contented itself with defending in depth and launching the occasional counterattack for much of the game.

“Their game plan was to try [to] condense and hopefully catch [us on] a counterattack,” Head Coach Dave Nolan said of the Bulls’ strategy. “The two kids they have up front, [Chelsea] Klotz and [Venicia] Reid, are two lively forwards. If you’ve got lively forwards, you’ve always got a chance.”

The counterattack that ended the game started innocently, with the Bulls winning a throw-in deep in their own territory. The ball was then quickly played up to junior forward Reid, who blazed down the left touchline virtually unopposed until she reached the edge of the penalty area. There, two Blue and Gray defenders appeared to dispossess the onrushing Reid, which they did before an unfortunate bounce gave the ball right back to the South Florida forward who made the most of her second chance and coolly slotted it past senior goalkeeper Jackie DesJardin at the near post, ending the game with only 1:59 left in the second overtime.

“We took our eye off the ball,” Nolan said. “They were able to come out of the throw-in and [get] the ball to one of their dangerous players. … [Reid] got a little bit lucky with it, our defenders were a little bit unlucky, but when [the ball] ended back up at her feet she finished it well.”

The golden goal touched off a delirious celebration on the visiting bench, as players streamed onto the pitch and Reid sprinted the length of the field in celebration as shell-shocked Hoyas stood or kneeled where they had been playing just seconds earlier.

“I’ve got to give them credit, they defended well and I don’t think we were at our sharpest today,” Nolan said. “But that’s the game [and] on any given day, anything can happen. Unfortunately for us, we had to take it on the chin.”

The win vastly improves South Florida’s chances of making it into the NCAA tournament field, and they will have a chance to stake an even stronger claim if they beat a Marquette team that won the Big East’s American division.

The game started off fairly promisingly for the Blue and Gray, as they enjoyed the lion’s share of the possession in the first half. However, the visitors came close to opening the scoring several times, most notably when one long-range attempt beat DesJardin, only to clatter off the crossbar, with the rebound wastefully headed over a virtually empty net.

Minutes later, redshirt junior midfielder Ingrid Wells stole the ball on the edge of box and struck a good cross into the box that junior forward Camille Trujillo headed on goal, only to have it saved by Bulls goalie Nicole McClure. McClure would be tested several more times in the half, with freshman defender Kailey Blain forcing a scrambling save, while Wells, freshman forward Kaitlin Brenn and junior forward Sam Baker also came inches away from putting Georgetown up on several occasions.

“They’re hard to break down,” Nolan said of the South Florida defense. “For all our possession, we didn’t really have that many clear-cut chances. We didn’t have their keeper make that many great saves.”

After a fruitless first 45 minutes, Nolan sent Baker, Trujillo and Brenn out to start the second half in an effort to mix things up and give the Blue and Gray some more attacking punch. But the Hoyas were continually foiled by an inability to make the final pass in the attacking third as well as excellent last-ditch defending by the Bulls on several occasions.

“They definitely dropped off, they didn’t come out and play us toe to toe,” Nolan said about the South Florida tactics. “They basically tried to keep nine of their field players between the edge of their 18-yard box and the halfway line. …. They definitely sat back and invited us to try [to] break them down, and ultimately we weren’t good enough to do it today.”

The shift in players seemed to work, as the Hoyas dominated possession in the early stages of the second half even more than they had in the first half. Wells and Trujillo repeatedly found space down the right side to launch crosses into the box, and the Hoyas threatened to break the deadlock several times off Baker’s ever-dangerous long throws.

“In the second half we were pressing and pushing on and committing a little bit more forward,” Nolan said. “[But] it was a lot of scrambles … nothing concrete where you’re looking at it and going `Oh we should score here.'”

It wasn’t until nearly 30 minutes were gone in the half that the Bulls got their first real look at DesJardin’s goal, and that began a brief passage of play where the Hoyas had to resort to some desperate defending of their own.

By and large, the second half was a story of missed opportunities for the Blue and Gray as senior defender Michaela Buonomo’s header off a Baker corner got past McClure, only to be cleared from danger by a South Florida defender. Brenn, Baker and freshman forward Colleen Dinn all had chances to put the Hoyas on top.

After the better part of two 10-minute overtimes had elapsed with the Hoyas still looking like the team more likely to score and the Bulls seemingly content to go to penalty kicks, the visitors innocuously launched the counterattack that would end the game after another promising Georgetown attack fizzled.

“We had them in the corner off the throw in and they did something we’d watched on tape and spoken about,” Nolan said. “But at that stage of the game it’s late, the kids are tired, drained [and] decision-making goes out the window a little bit and we got burned.”

Despite the loss, Nolan believes that his team has done enough to earn a tournament bid when the selection committee convenes.

“I still think we’re in good shape, but we’re going to have to sweat a little bit, we’re going to have to wait until all the tournaments [finish] next week,” Nolan said. “I’ll be disappointed if we don’t make the big dance, but you can never tell. [It’s] going to be a nervous eight days for us.”

“We just wanted to get a little bit more pressure on [South Florida],” Nolan said about his team’s approach in the second half. “[But] it was difficult to find space because they defended with numbers.”

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