Goalkeeper Ashley Castanio helped lead the Seawolves to the victory with a career-high 16 saves in Sunday's win. [NINA LIN/THE STATESMAN]

Goalkeeper Ashley Castanio helped lead the Seawolves to the victory with a career-high 16 saves in Sunday’s win. [NINA LIN/THE STATESMAN]

At the beginning of the season, the goal for the Stony Brook University Seawolves women’s soccer team was to get back to the NCAA Tournament. Well, they are now one game away, as the Seawolves drew their semifinal match with Maine 1-1 and then advanced in the penalty kick shootout 3-1. Ashley Castanio made two huge saves in the shootout, to go along with her career-high 16 saves in regulation and overtime to lead the Seawolves back to the final for the second consecutive year. Only this time, they will not be playing Hartford as they did last season.

They will be playing the Cinderella team of the year, the UMBC Retrievers, who, last year, finished last in the conference. The Retrievers made the miraculous turnaround to earn the top seed in the America East tournament this season, and defeated Hartford 2-0 on Sunday to move into the matchup with Stony Brook.

“We knew we were going to get there,” Castanio said. “They broke our home record here and we want to go there and beat them when it counts.”

The Seawolves were able to get on the board early, when Leah Yurko put home a rebound off of a shot from Larissa Nysch with 15:49 to play in the first half to give the Seawolves a 1-0 lead. Nysch recorded her America East leading 25th point of the season with the assist, and is a part of the crucial senior leadership on this team.

“You can’t talk enough about having been there,” Coach Sue Ryan said. “That’s really important to our mentality.”

With 6:58 to go, the Black Bears tried for their first goal and had a huge chance, but were denied by Castanio in front, as Charlene Achille got a header on a corner but was denied. Then, just 46 seconds later, another Maine corner was taken, and this time it was Eve L’Abbe being denied by the America East Goalkeeper of the Year.

In the second half, Stony Brook had a chance to extend its lead, but wasn’t able to, as Nysch put a shot from 25 yards out off the crossbar, and Yurko’s rebound was superbly denied by Maine keeper Claudia Dube-Trempe, who recorded 11 saves herself.

The Black Bears would then have a huge chance with 15:26 to go in the half, as Eve L’Abbe’s header was again denied by Castanio, and was cleared for another Maine corner, which produced another huge save by the redshirt junior keeper, and a point blank shot by Nikki Misener was sent over the bar and Maine couldn’t equalize.

But they would with 10:58 to go, when Lisa Bijman headed an 18-yard free kick from Joanie L’Abbe at the left post, over Ashley Castanio’s head and into the top right corner to tie the game. Maine would continue pressuring, not allowing Stony Brook to control at all the final 10 minutes of regulation, but couldn’t score and the game was headed to overtime for the second straight matchup, as it did it Orono seven days ago.

“When you’re playing a team that’s really good, you’re going to put it all out there” Castanio said.

And both teams did, as they traded chances in the first overtime, but neither were converted as Maine’s Maggie Malone and Stony Brook’s Tessa Devereaux were denied the game-winning goal.

The second overtime failed to produce any quality chances, and the game was headed for the penalty kick shootout.

“We practiced that all week,” Coach Ryan said. “It’s players who want to take that pressure on.”

Castanio was ready for anything that Maine had to throw at her, and even got a little help from the post. After Stella Norman’s shot was denied, Castanio stepped up big by making a fingertip save on Charlene Achille to keep it scoreless.

After the teams traded second round goals and Caitlin Pfeiffer made it 2-1 Stony Brook, Castanio again made a big save, diving left to keep it out.

“I just try and read their body and guess a way. If you guess the right way you get lucky,” the keeper said.

Then who else to turn to for the Seawolves, but Nysch, as she put home a goal that put Maine in a do-or-die position, needing to make their two next shots and hoping Stony Brook missed theirs.

Cue a keeper’s best friend, the goalpost. Joanie L’Abbe struck one off the left post and the Seawolves advanced after the shootout, and Maine finishes their season at 9-5-5.

The America East Championship match is scheduled at UMBC at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 9 and the winner clinches an automatic berth in the NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Tournament. The Seawolves will be looking for their 2nd straight tourney spot, while UMBC will be looking for its first ever.