MELBOURNE, Fla. — First, she freaked out.
Then, she blacked out.
And in the crazy, celebratory crush of her teammates, Naialani Garcia could barely breathe. Her two fractured heels, well, they still hurt … but not as much.
National championship game, here comes the Navarro College Bulldogs.
“It’s amazing,” said Garcia, whose goal with just over three minutes left in overtime gave Navarro a 1-0 victory over Butler Community College in the NJCAA semifinals.
The third-seeded Bulldogs (19-3-1), who are having the best season in school history, will face No. 1 Iowa Western Saturday night at 6 p.m. in the national championship game. Iowa Western defeated Laramie County 4-3 in penalty kicks after a scoreless regulation and overtime period.
It looked like Navarro and Butler might be headed for penalty kicks as well. Despite both teams having a couple of hold-your-breath shots on goal, both goalkeepers came up big all night.
Finally, as Butler was trying to clear the ball out of its own area, Navarro stole possession and Joanna Nigro crossed the ball across the goal to Garcia, who was wide open.
“I kind of freaked out a little bit,” Garcia said. “I was like, ‘I have to get this. Come on!’ So I just took a deep breath and I placed it back corner. The goalie couldn’t get it, so it was perfect. Thank God.”
In a tournament where the Bulldogs have won all three games by one goal, this was easily the most dramatic victory yet.
“I thought we controlled the game,” Navarro assistant coach Aric Bonner said. “So I thought it was just a matter of time before one went in the back of the net. Their goalkeeper (Kelsi Langley) played absolutely tremendous. She made some saves that I was thinking there’s no way she’s going to get to the ball. The girls just dug in and really just pressed hard on that last series and just kept fighting until they got it.