Minnesota squeaks out two crucial wins

Josee Stiever scored in extra time Sunday to clinch the Gophers’ victory over Ole Miss.

Minnesota defender Becca Roberts steals the ball from Louisiana State on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. Gophers won 2-1 against the LSU Tigers at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium.

Chelsea Gortmaker

Minnesota defender Becca Roberts steals the ball from Louisiana State on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. Gophers won 2-1 against the LSU Tigers at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium.

Jace Frederick

Challenges have littered the Gophers’ nonconference schedule early this season, but through six games, Minnesota has been up to the task every time.

That trend continued this weekend as the Gophers won a pair of thrillers at the Minnesota Gold Classic. They beat Louisiana State 2-1 on Friday and followed it up with a 2-1 win over Ole Miss in extra time Sunday, improving to 6-0 on the season.

“It’s a huge step in the right direction,” Gophers head coach Stefanie Golan said after Sunday’s victory. “This is a team that has a lot of fight in them.”

The Gophers generated many opportunities Friday but often came up empty, hitting posts and missing the net by inches on multiple occasions.

But when they needed it, the Gophers made a big play at a pivotal point.

Locked in a 1-1 tie in the 81st minute, freshman defender/forward Ashley Pafko scored her first collegiate goal, finishing off an outstanding run by fellow freshman midfielder Josee Stiever.

Pafko’s goal proved to be the difference.

While the Gophers struggled to score Friday, the sheer volume of opportunities is encouraging, Golan said.

“The important thing is that we’re creating those opportunities, and we’re creating them against a caliber team like [LSU],” she said.

Freshman goalkeeper Tarah Hobbs was solid in net for the Gophers against the Tigers. Her biggest save Friday came in the second half with the score tied 1-1, when LSU senior midfielder/defender Alex Ramsey lofted a shot from well outside the box.

The ball traveled just over the outstretched hand of Hobbs and hit the crossbar. The rebound went directly to Tigers sophomore midfielder Fernanda Pina, whose attempt at net was thwarted by Hobbs.

The freshman keeper said she thrives under pressure.

“You kind of have to,” she said. “It’s just the thrill of it. The adrenaline gets you going every time.”

Hobbs followed her showing from Friday with another solid performance on Sunday against the Rebels. Though she was stellar on the afternoon, Stiever was the hero.

Stiever scored the game-winning goal in the 97th minute to give the Gophers the 2-1 win in extra time.

Ole Miss tested Hobbs often, forcing her to respond as the Gophers’ attackers struggled to generate chances against the Rebels’ defense.

For much of the match, Ole Miss was the aggressor, pressuring the Gophers’ back line and forcing Hobbs to play balls with her feet.

Minnesota’s defense stood tall at the start, holding the game to a scoreless tie through the first half. But Ole Miss scored on a Rafaelle Souza penalty kick in the 71st minute to take the 1-0 lead.

Minnesota responded to the deficit with a relentless attack, creating multiple opportunities.

Then in the 87th minute, the Gophers found their answer.

Ole Miss was called for a handball in the box, and junior midfielder Katie Thyken drilled the penalty kick into the right side of the net to tie the game and send it into extra time.

The Gophers won in extra time on the goal by Stiever.

Golan said she was pleased with her team’s fight in the come-from-behind effort.

“That’s the sign of a really good team, is a team who … still finds a way to win at the end of the day,” she said, “so we’re very proud of the girls.”

The Gophers travel to Florida on Friday, where they’ll take on the No. 10 Florida Gators.