By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Through 109 minutes, the scoreboard still read 0-0 and reality set in that Sunday just might not be Penn State's day.
It wasn't as if the Nittany Lions didn't deserve the victory. They outshot Illinois 27-2 and held possession for the majority of the game. A draw just wouldn't have seemed right with the way Penn State dominated the match.
As the clock ran down in the second overtime, Laura Freigang refused to let three points in the standings slip through the cracks.
After a flurry of Penn State chances, Maddie Elliston sent a high ball to the top of the box for Freigang. She controlled it off her chest, dribbled once to her right to face the goal and ripped a right-footed bullet into the net with just 42 seconds remaining to give Penn State the walk-off win.
"I just tried to hit it on goal," Freigang said. "I knew that we didn't have much time left, and it was honestly kind of lucky. [The goalkeeper] had her hand on it and it rolled in, but it's all we needed."
Head coach Erica Dambach said she never doubted her team would eventually find the back of the net.
"We do a five-minute drill all the time," Dambach said. "We know we can score with five minutes left in a game. I believe in this group. I always think that they're dangerous and can put a ball away."
The goal was Freigang's first of the season and third of her career. She and Charlotte Williams led the team with six shots apiece in the game.
Penn State tested Illini goalkeeper Jaelyn Cunningham with 12 shots on goal in the contest. Cunningham made a season-high 10 saves and miraculously kept the Nittany Lions off the board as long as she could. Dambach said Cunningham was the MVP of the match.
If Penn State had an MVP, it would most certainly be Freigang.
The sophomore from Oppenheim, Germany fought fatigue and a physical back line all day without giving an inch. She came off the bench and played 70 minutes in the game, more than any other substitute.
Freigang can be forgotten at times playing with high-powered scorers like Frannie Crouse and Megan Schafer up top, but she's just as dangerous when she receives the ball in the right position. She's clever with her passes and uses her 5-foot-8 frame to pin defenders before making her move, like she did Sunday.
Defender Ellie Jean was a key contributor to Penn State's fourth shutout in eight matches this season. She said a game like Sunday's shows that the team can fight through different forms of adversity.
"We have a really tough season, and I think it's really good for us just to prepare for whatever postseason," Jean said. "We're looking to just be a team, create as a team, be a unit, and create every game."
If Sunday's hard-fought win proved anything, it's that no matches in the Big Ten are ever guaranteed victories.
"We say it day in and day out--any team in this conference can play with any other team regardless of who it is and when it is, but you got to show up with your A-game," Dambach said.
Penn State will hit the road for three straight games away from home. The Nittany Lions travel to Iowa City, Iowa next to face the Hawkeyes on Friday, September 22 at 8 p.m.