Bulls defeat Pirates in overtime nail-biter

Senior forward Chloe Zamiela (19) scored the game-winning goal in overtime against ECU on Thursday. ORACLE PHOTO/LEDA ALVIM

Conference play got off to an electrifying start Thursday night, as the USF women’s soccer team came back from behind twice to win a five-goal, overtime thriller over East Carolina.

“Honestly, it was a super stressful game,” coach Denise Schilte-Brown said. “I think I lost five years [off my life].”

Corbett Stadium erupted when senior forward Chloe Zamiela’s game-winning header sneaked under the ECU (4-5, 0-1 AAC) goalkeeper, making the final score 3-2. It was her second goal of the season, playing her role as a late substitute to perfection.

“Coming off the bench, I knew my job [was to score],” she said. “Sometimes it’s easier to say but harder [to do], but I got the job done.”

The service for the winner came from senior defender Chyanne Dennis, who became increasingly involved in the attack in the overtime period.

“I mean, whenever I’m near the box I think something happens,” she said. “I think it was a good team effort, honestly. Games like this happen maybe once every season, so to come back from [behind twice], that takes a whole team effort.”

Both of ECU’s goals came from over 35 yards out, each agonizingly floating over junior goalkeeper Sydney Martinez’s head. Perhaps a part of the Pirates’ game plan to expose the space she tended to leave behind her when the Bulls (5-2-1, 1-0 AAC) were in possession. 

“We ask Martinez to stay high, so I’m not going to say anything about [her positioning],” Schilte-Brown said. “Those were two good finishes, the second one, in particular, was right in the corner.”

The Bulls laid an offensive onslaught beginning in the second half. For the majority of the 45 minutes, the ball remained in ECU’s defensive half with the Pirates constantly on their heels. The Bulls managed 21 shots in total after halftime. 

Dennis credited the Bulls’ bench with providing the extra spark the 11 players on the field needed as the game wore on.

“I want to shout out our bench, 1,000%,” she said. “Their energy today was remarkable. Even when we dropped our heads, [they continued to] pick us up, be loud and cheer us on. I commend them for everything that they did for us today.”

The intensity rose to a fever pitch in the final 10 minutes of play. With just six minutes left on the clock, a USF cross bounced around the box before sophomore defender Lucy Roberts evened the score from a tight angle with a strike into the side netting.

Not even three minutes had passed when ECU’s second wondergoal looped over Martinez and restored the Pirates’ lead. It could have easily been the knockout blow, if not for the heroics of junior forward Sydny Nasello, who scored her team-leading fifth goal of the season with a blast into the top corner.

“I think it was good leadership [from Nasello],” Schilte-Brown said. “For me, a professional player takes the team on the shoulder like [she] did at the end.”

With time running low, a decoy run by Zamiela allowed Nasello the time to pick her spot.

“The scoreboard said two minutes left so I knew the only way to go was towards the goal,” Nasello said. “I think [Zamiela] made the perfect run between the center back and full back which opened up my space [so I could] just rip the shot, props to her.”

The win was just what the Bulls deserved, outshooting the Pirates 29 to five in a dominating performance. It’s the program’s 10th consecutive win over ECU, kicking off its AAC campaign in encouraging fashion.

The Bulls travel to Fort Myers on Sunday to take on Florida Gulf Coast with kickoff scheduled for 4 p.m.