KANSAS CITY, Mo. –
Frances Silva has more than lived up to her Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year honor. The West Virginia senior provided the only offense in Friday's Big 12 Conference Championship semifinal, scoring off a free kick in the 51st minute, lifting the Mountaineers to a 1-0 triumph over Baylor at Swope Soccer Village.
WVU (15-3-2), the top seed in the tournament, advances to its first Big 12 Championship match, where it will meet the winner of the second semifinal of Texas Tech-Oklahoma State at 3:30 p.m. Sunday.
For the second-straight contest, Silva used a free kick to give West Virginia the lead. After being taken down 20 yards from the net, the Overland Park, Kan., blasted the ensuing free kick into the near side of the net, past a diving Michelle Kloss.
"She is just such a composed and technical player, so we knew she was our best option in that situation," said West Virginia head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown of Silva. "She's lived up to all of the awards that she's been given this year and been a great leader for our team.
The goal was Silva's third goal of the tournament and conference-leading 15th of the season. All three of her goals this week have come off set plays in front of the net, with two on free kicks outside the box and one on a penalty kick Wednesday vs. Kansas.
"I've just been taken down in the right spots," said Silva, who also drew the foul that led to her free kick goal on Wednesday. "In that situation (tonight), I'm just trying to get outside. I am thinking about the foul in the back of my mind, but it's not something I'm trying to do. It's just what happened."
Despite Silva's heroics, West Virginia had to survive a flurry from the Bears in the final minutes.
The Bears' best chance came with 30 seconds remaining, when a foul gave Baylor a direct free kick just 24 yards out. However, Bri Campos' shot was smothered by goalkeeper Sara Keane to all but end the match.
The play was reminiscent of last season's meeting between the teams, when Baylor forced a 1-1 tie with a goal off a free kick in the final seconds of regulation.
"It's really ironic that it happened again," Keane said. "When I saw the (official's) hand go up I thought 'uh oh'. But my defense did a great job of setting up the wall and I was fortunate to make the save."
"It was about the longest 30 seconds of my life," Izzo-Brown said. "Give the girls a lot of credit for staying composed, because Baylor was throwing everything they had at us at the end."
Keane recorded her eighth shutout of the year, making two saves. It was her 25th career shutout, which moves her into third on West Virginia's all-time list.
Meanwhile, Kloss recorded four saves for Baylor, with all four coming in the first half.
Baylor controlled the tempo the opening minutes of the match, but the Mountaineers dominated play through much of the second half.
Both teams recorded 14 shots in the contest, with four of Baylor's attempts coming in the final five minutes. Junior Natalie Huggins led the Bears with four shots, while Silva paced West Virginia's offense with five, including four on net.
The match was almost completely opposite of the regular season meeting, which West Virginia prevailed, 4-3 in Waco.
"We really worked hard for that shutout," said Keane. "Baylor is a really good team and a tough team to shut out, but that's the goal we have before every match."
The Bears, last season's conference tournament champions, finish the week with an 11-6-3 record.