When Saturday's America East men's soccer championship game between UMBC and New Hampshire went to a penalty kick shootout, the Wildcats appeared to have an advantage in the league's top goalie, Colin O'Donnell.
However, it was Retrievers goalie Dan Louisignau who came up the biggest, stopping the Wildcats' second attempt, as host UMBC went on to win the shootout, 5-4. The game had remained scoreless through regulation and two overtimes.
With the win, the second-seeded Retrievers secured a bid to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1999. They join Maryland, likely a top seed, as the only local teams to secure a bid. UMBC's first-round opponent will be announced Monday on ESPNU at 4:30 p.m.
A loss by top-seeded Boston University in the conference tournament opened the door for UMBC to host its first-ever conference championship Saturday.
"I told the guys the other day in the locker room that I think it was destiny," UMBC coach Pete Caringi said. "Last year, when we lost the final, we had a great run and we were nationally ranked. We really had a young team, and we worked hard ever since then."
In the shootout, Levi Houapeu, Andrew Bulls, Chris Williams, Daniel Welsh and John Paul Waraksa scored for UMBC (11-4-3). Louisignau stopped Joe Corsello's shot in the second round and that was the difference. Houapeu was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player.
"This whole week, we practiced PKs," Louisignau said. "Everyone on the team has taken at least three or four. Going in, I was just really prepared. I like to thank our coach for that."
Fifth-seeded New Hampshire (9-5-6) entered the game allowing a league-best 0.58 goals per game. Its defenders take little chances by just knocking away loose balls. The Wildcats also rely on counter-attacks, with 6-foot-3 forward Charlie Roche serving as the main target.
UMBC, which has the league's top offense, outshot the Wildcats, 11-9.
Houapeu, the conference's leading scorer, had to deal with two and sometimes three defenders shadowing him the entire game. Houapeu, projected to be a first-round pick in this year's Major League Soccer draft, still created havoc and nearly gave UMBC the lead with a quick poke in the 32nd minute.
New Hampshire sent more players forward in the final 12 minutes and created several scoring chances, outshooting UMBC 6-3 in the second half. The Retrievers had the better end of play in the overtimes with Houapeu and Andrew Bulls coming within inches of ending the game.
Waraksa admitted being nervous lining up for the potential game-winning penalty kick in the shootout.
"I had some strategy because we kicked to the left pretty much every time and he wasn't even looking to his right," Waraksa said. "I usually hit left, but this time, I went right."