When coaches need to convince players they can turn around a game in seconds, they might want to tell them about the 44 seconds that got the Harding Lady Bison into the NCAA tournament.
But it took a magical 44 seconds on a muddy field last weekend to get there, as Harding came from behind to beat Southwestern Oklahoma 5-3 to win its first Great American Conference Championship to nab the conference’s first automatic tournament bid.
With less than 20 minutes to play in that game, it looked like the clock was cruelly counting down the time until Harding would pack away the gear for the year. The Lady Bisons were ranked No. 8 in the Central Region by the NCAA in its last rankings, and without a conference championship, they’d be left out of the big dance.
And they were down a goal.
Then the most important 44 seconds of the team’s season – maybe in program history – happened.
A Southwestern Oklahoma defender failed to clear a loose ball and Harding’s Audrey Adkison pounced, scoring in the 73rd minute to equalize and give the Lady Bisons new hope.
Then, less than a minute later it was Harding 4, SW Oklahoma 3 as Mika Richards scored from 35 yards out, her second goal of the game, and biggest of the season. Southwestern Oklahoma was unfortunate to allow an own goal late in the game for the final tally, but by that time, the Lady Bisons already knew they were tourney-bound.
“This was the most passionate game we’ve been involved in all year,” said Harding Coach Greg Harris. “The ladies showed so much heart and passion to come back after going down.”
While Harding wouldn’t have made the NCAA tournament without the win, that’s not to say they wouldn’t have been deserving. Harding finished 15-3-2 overall and 10-1-1 in the GAC and comes into the tournament on a third-best-in-the-nation 10-game win streak. The Bisons also finished the season a perfect 10-0 on their home field, one of just five DII teams to have a perfect home record.
Harding freshman midfielder Bethany Sutherland is tied for third in the nation with 23 goals on the season, a school and conference record, and is the second-leading scoring freshman in the country.
The 15 wins is the most for the program since 2004, the only other year the Lady Bisons have made it to the Big Dance. That team went 15-4-1 and lost to the University of Tampa 4-1. That was a long time ago – many of this year’s Harding freshman were in first grade that year.
On paper, Harding had a similar year to Augustana. The Vikings finished 18-2-1 and won their first Northern Sun Intercollegiate tournament, beating Winona St. 1-0 last weekend to get an automatic berth. Like Harding, Augustana comes in on a hot streak, having won its last seven.
The game will be played in Mankato, Minn., with the winner to face BR-4 Minnesota State Mankato, on Sunday.
HARDING (15-3-2, 10-1-1 Great America Conference)
Location: Searcy, Arkansas
Coach: Greg Harris
Leading Scorer: Bethany Sutherland, 23 goals in 20 games
AUGUSTANA (18-2-1, 13-1-1 Northern Sun)
Location: Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Coach: Brandon Barkus
Leading Scorer: Samantha Tymkowicz, 14 goals in 20 games