PULLMAN — For the Washington State soccer team, Friday night was just like any other game.
The Cougars, playing like a team used to the bright lights of the NCAA tournament, dominated from the opening whistle in a 1-0 victory against No. 14 Memphis that was closer than it could have been at WSU’s Lower Soccer Field.
WSU — hosting a tournament game for the second consecutive season — outshot Memphis 16-4, including a 7-2 advantage in shots on goal.
“Super proud of this group,” WSU coach Todd Shulenberger said. “That’s an excellent Memphis team — they won 17 games for a reason.
“We left a couple on the table too, but I tell ya, the Pac-12 Conference and this season definitely prepared us for tonight.”
With the win, WSU (13-6-1) advances to the second round of the NCAA for the third straight season. The Cougars’ best showing was a Sweet 16 appearance in 2017. They fell to No. 2 Georgetown in the second round last year.
WSU will learn its next opponent today — either top-seeded Virginia or Radford.
The Cougs finally broke through in the 62nd minute with what would be the only goal. Senior midfielder Averie Collins won a 50-50 ball near midfield and flipped it to forward Makamae Gomera-Stevens.
The junior split a pair of Tigers defenders and tucked the ball inside the left post for her first career postseason goal.
“It was Makamae doing her thing,” Shulenberger said. “She was either going to take it to the goal or slip it to Morgan (Weaver). The first time, she slipped it to Morgan and the keeper made a good save. This time, Mak went herself.”
Shulenberger said WSU’s plan was to use three forwards against Memphis’ unusual three-defender formation to force pressure into the attacking third and make the Tigers change their shape. If they could do that without getting beat on a counter, they’d be golden.
The plan worked.
The most dangerous weapon for the Tigers (17-3-1), forward Clarissa Larisey, had zero shots in the game despite having 16 goals on the season.
“Our defense was so strong tonight,” Gomera-Stevens said. “They knew that (Larisey) was one of their best assets, but our defenders are better. ... Our defense is really strong. They knew what they had to do and they kept it out of our back of the net.”
Shulenberger said the Cougars felt positive at halftime despite the 0-0 tie.
The Cougs fielded a fairly tall team compared to their American Athletic Conference counterparts, and they used their height to their advantage by taking the ball to the corners.
WSU earned 11 corner kicks — eight in the second half — to only one for Memphis. While the corners didn’t result in any goals, they helped keep the Tigers pinned on their side of the field.
“We know that we have a lot of tall people on our team, so corner kicks is one of our assets ’cause obviously they’re good (for) headers,” said Gomera-Stevens, coincidentally one of WSU’s shortest players at 5-foot-5. “So we wanted to take it to the end line and get crosses off, and if we couldn’t get crosses off, the corner kick was the next best option.”
Gomera-Stevens’ goal was her fourth of the season, and Collins’ assist was her fifth. Weaver had five shots and goalkeeper Ella Dederick tallied two saves for WSU.
Memphis goalkeeper Elizabeth Moberg had six saves.
A crowd of 1,100 was on hand to watch the victory.
“It was nice to play in front of this crowd one last time for these seniors, and the crowd was awesome today,” Shulenberger said.
Shulenberger said he’s been telling his team to not take the postseason for granted. Only 32 teams remain in contention for a national title.
“This is the third year we’ve been to the second or third round and we’re proud of ourselves, we’re proud of the group, but we’re here to do some work now,” he said. “Whether we’re playing Virginia or not, Rutgers already got beat tonight, the 4-seed. Soccer is crazy, anything can happen.”
Memphis 0 0 — 0
Washington State 0 1 — 1
Washington St. — Makamae Gomera-Stevens (Averie Collins), 62nd.
Shots — Memphis 4, Washington St. 16.
Saves — Memphis: Elizabeth Moberg 6; Washington St.: Ella Dederick 2.
Stephan Wiebe can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter at @StephanSports.