On Thursday night, as Kansas State was fighting the clock in the final seconds, trying to tie Gonzaga and send the match into overtime, the scene at Buser Family Park became more vibrant by the second: The bright lights. The buzzing crowd. The students blowing Vuvuzelas. The public address announcer counting it down.
K-State forward Christina Baxter took a pass outside Gonzaga’s box, on the right side, and dribbled left.
She took two steps and unfurled a pass to her left, toward the net.
The ball sailed exactly where Baxter had intended: Toward the center of the box, a few feet outside the net, in the airspace where midfielder Laramie Hall might be able to get a header off.
Laramie closed her eyes to it all — the lights, the crowd, everything, even the ball. She struck it with her head.
She opened her eyes.
The ball was in the back of the net. Goal. Tie game.
Hall screamed and threw herself into a hug with her nearest teammate, which happened to be midfielder Brookelyn Entz. The two yelled. Soon, Hall was buried under a pile of elated Wildcats, shrieking and hollering for all the right reasons.
“I saw Laramie get her head on it, and I started screaming my head off,” Baxter said. “It was awesome.”
The goal tied the game, but eventually, K-State lost. Gonzaga used a penalty kick in overtime to walk off and win, 3-2, handing the hosts their second straight loss.
Even so, the story of how Hall headed in a game-tying goal with four seconds remaining bears telling for several reasons, including because it showed head coach Mike Dibbini something about his team he had never seen.
And for a program in its fourth year of existence, these types of goals can go a long way, even in losses — even when its scorers aren’t looking.
“I literally saw it and closed my eyes and went down,” Hall said. “I saw it go in the back of the net, so I guess I opened my eyes back.”
Ask Hall, and she’ll tell you that the goal didn’t just happen. It was a long time coming. It was the product of hours of work, chatting with her teammates and coaches alike to detail routes and angles, the kinds of intricate details that, when executed properly, lead to goals.
In the case of the goal against Gonzaga, Hall recalled conversations with Baxter and assistant coach Kat Benton. The three often talked about Hall and Baxter’s connection. Hall and Baxter had felt it for some time. It just had never resulted in a goal.
Until Thursday night.
“I saw Christina get the ball out wide, and if you’ve been watching any of our past games, she drops dimes every single time,” Hall said. “It’s a perfect ball. We hadn’t finished any of them, I don’t think, yet. So we watched film earlier this week and talked about the right timing. Kat really showed us what that looked like.”
The work, though, wasn’t enough. The Wildcats had to energize themselves. After Gonzaga scored in the 78th minute and K-State responded in the 85th minute, on an assist from Hall and goal from Baxter, the scoring continued.
The Bulldogs benefited from a foul call, and Madeline Gotta laced in a penalty kick, good for a 2-1 lead in the 87th minute.
That, Hall said, is when she fired her team up. She wore a big smile when she did so.
“I remember us coming into the huddle,” Hall said, “and saying, ‘Hey, let’s smile, and that sounds crazy, but this’ — she smiled big — ‘makes you feel better.’
“I think being on each other in a positive, urgent way, I know that that helped lift me, and I’m sure it helped with the other girls, too. I definitely felt it.”
You know the rest: Hall headed in the game-tying goal and K-State celebrated like there was no tomorrow.
That’s the catch, though. K-State (1-5-2) has a lot of soccer to play, including a home matchup with Tulsa on Sunday afternoon. The Wildcats have a chance to prove that their late-game flurry against the Bulldogs wasn’t a fluke, that they can make another defense pay for relaxing to even the slightest degree.
To Dibbini, it starts with attitude, with approach, with mentality.
“I saw a lot of things in our team,” Dibbini said, “that I haven’t seen in the past: The desire to want to win, and the desire to sacrifice and want to score some goals. Very, very happy with that, and now if we can continue to take the momentum of that desire into the next matches, I think this team showed some signs.”
That seemed to be the consensus among K-State players in the immediate after the game. It was a loss, a painful one for the Wildcats, but they played well enough and displayed enough poise to leave feeling encouraged.
“I’m really proud of how we played tonight,” Baxter said, “and we showed the composure that we have and the strength that we have going forward.”
That’s important because K-State hasn’t been a winning program since its first season in 2016. The Wildcats haven’t won a Big 12 game since 2017, when they logged just one, a victory over rival Kansas.
The construction of Buser Family Park over the offseason, the players said, feels like a step in the right direction, the kind of move that signals program permanence and player recognition.
The players, of course, are the ones moving this thing forward.
It doesn’t hurt when they’re scoring in the final seconds, either.
“We didn’t get the win, obviously,” Hall said, “but I thought that that was a really well-earned team goal, and to get a goal in the last however many seconds we had left — I think that shows a lot, to really go for it. For her to cross it perfectly and for me to run in for whoever got the ball to her, it was a lot of hard work, and it wasn’t given to us.”