When Seamus O’Connor entered the locker room after Temple’s 2-1 American Athletic Conference quarterfinal loss to Central Florida Tuesday in Dallas, Texas, he saw “a good mixture” of tears and laughter from his players.
The Owls’ (12-7-1, 4-4-1 The American) loss to the Knights marked their third straight first-round exit from The American’s conference tournament since joining the 10-team league in 2013.
“My message to them was, ‘You’re allowed to go to bed upset tonight, but tomorrow morning you have to wake up proud because you’re still amazing young women,’” O’Connor said. “We were over the game so, so quickly and the focus was just on what an amazing four years that these seniors have had.”
Trailing by two goals with less than three minutes to play in regulation, senior striker Kelly Farrell scored her career-high, conference-leading 13th goal of the season on a breakaway attempt assisted by redshirt junior Gina DiTaranto to trim the Knights’ lead to a single goal.
Temple, the No. 6 seed in the conference tournament, outshot No. 3 Central Florida, 14-13, and held a 10-8 advantage in the second half.
“We literally ran out of minutes,” O’Connor said. “We were all over them to finish the game … and I’m sad that we didn’t win but just so, so proud of how far this team has come and that we were right there, and I’ll always take it if I get beat by a better team; I’m fine with it.”
The Knights led 2-0 at halftime. Central Florida outshot Temple, 5-4, in the first half, scoring on an own goal in the seventh minute and finding the back of the net again on a strike from senior midfielder Ashley Spivey in the 22nd minute.
Tuesday’s loss was the second time this season Central Florida shut out Temple in the first half. The Knights defeated the Owls 1-0 Sept. 24 in Orlando, Florida.
“They’re a very, very good team,” O’Connor said. “We started the game really well, and then they got back into it and got the goals, and they were playing really, really well, and we were kind of playing on our back foot.”
O’Connor said he couldn’t be more pleased with how his team responded in the second half.
“I think it was the fear of not wanting to go home,” he said. “We just played like our lives depended on it.”
Six different Owls attempted shots as O’Connor’s team put the full-court press on Central Florida with his team’s season hanging in the balance.
“[Junior midfielder] Elaine [Byerley] had a shot off the post and it looked like it was going in, everything was perfect,” O’Connor said. “She struck it beautifully from outside the box, it was hit so hard, and we thought it was going in and the last second it just freaking hit off the goal post and came out.”
Tom Reifsnyder can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Tom_Reifsnyder.