CHAMPAIGN – She didn't quite hobble onto the field like Kirk Gibson before his game-winning home run in Game One of the 1988 World Series.
But ailing Penn State forward Christie Welsh provided a finished just as dramatic in the opener of the Big Ten soccer tournament.
Welsh hadn't played or practiced in nearly a month after suffering a stress fracture in her right foot. But with time running out in a scoreless quarterfinal match with Minnesota on Thursday, the Lions (18-2-1) went to their All-American, and she led them to a 1-0 win.
Penn State's trainer called the team doctor with about 10 minutes left, got Welsh's clearance with about eight minutes to go, and the reigning conference player of the year entered with 5:16 to go.
"She had a good workout yesterday and a good workout this morning, but we didn't expect to play her," Lions coach Pat Farmer said. "She wanted us to call the physician to get her cleared today. Our trainer couldn't get ahold of (the physician) so he called again during the 80th minute."
With 56 seconds remaining, Welsh showed why she led the conference in scoring this year, heading in the game-winner on a pass from Bonnie Young.
"I've been sitting on the bench way too long for myself," said Welsh, who has 16 goals. "It's been frustrating. I think I owed it to my teammates."
Farmer said Welsh kicked a ball for the first time since her injury during pregame warm-ups. She was supposed to skip the Minnesota (8-10-1) game and possibly play 10 minutes today.
Farmer was ejected from the game with 17:32 left, so assistant coach Paula Wilkins inserted Welsh into the game.
"We thought she would play," Minnesota coach Barbara Wickstrand said. "It was kind of funny. It was typical she'd go in and try to win it, and she did."
Welsh, who played on the U.S. National team last summer, said her status for today's semifinal with Illinois depends on "how my foot feels after this."
Her goal ruined a 13-save performance by Gophers keeper Julie Eibensteiner and gave Penn State its fifth straight 1-0 win and its ninth one-goal win of the season.
Farmer, who watched the end of the game from behind the Illini Field fence, is hoping for less drama against the Illini.
"I don't have much hair and I have a big ulcer," Farmer said. "But it's a bunch of credit to their defense and that goalkeeper."
Big Ten honors Brown
Illinois forward Emily Brown was named to the All-Big Ten first team on Thursday for the second year in a row. The Illini junior is the Big Ten's No. 4 all-time goal scorer with 45.
Illinois is represented by two players on the second team, including repeater Heidi Holtzman. Joining the junior defender on the second team is junior midfielder Colleen Joyce.
Welsh repeated as player of the year, while Michigan State's Tom Saxton was named coach of the year.
It took two 15-minute overtimes plus penalty kicks, but the stage is set for a Michigan-Wisconsin semifinal featuring a battle for bragging rights between two sisters.
Michigan freshman Stephanie Chavez will take on her twin sister, Lindsay, when the Wolverines meet the Badgers tonight at Illinois Field.
"I think it will be a lot of fun tomorrow," Lindsay said after her sister's Wolverines defeated Iowa 2-0 on Thursday. "I know that it was pretty intense the last time we played them. I think it will be even more intense tomorrow because there is more on the line this time."
"I feel like our performance was good," Wolverine coach Debbie Rademacher said. "It was a tough first game. In this kind of tournament with three games, you try to use as many players as you can. We didn't get to do a whole lot of that today, but we're happy with the win."
Michigan outshot the Hawkeyes 13-2 in the first half, but the Wolverines couldn't put the ball in the net.
"We had a lot of great opportunities and we were kind of frustrated that we didn't score early," Rademacher said. "We made a couple of adjustments at halftime and things worked out."
Freshman Amber Wilson put Michigan in front midway through the second half, then put the game away late with her second goal. Wilson's two goals give her nine on the year.
"I didn't even know that," Wilson said. "I just go out there every day and do what I can. If I score, that's great. I'm perfectly happy with an assist, too. Whatever it takes to win the game."
Wisconsin outlasted Purdue in the best game of the day.
The Badgers fell behind 2-1 before sophomore Camile Flenniken tied the game late in the second half with a goal that curved around the Boilermaker defense and into the net.
"Camile had a outstanding game," Badger coach Dean Duerst said. "She has a knack for scoring goals like that."
Regulation ended with the Badgers and Boilermakers locked in a 2-2 tie. Two 15-minute overtime periods decided nothing, and the game moved on to penalty kicks. The teams traded goals before Wisconsin sophomore goalkeeper Kelly Conway knocked away a Purdue attempt.
"Kelly is a tremendous goalie," Flenniken said. "She puts this team in a position to win and she always comes through in situations like this."
Flenniken then iced the game with one final shot.
"We're really pumped up," Flenniken said. "We've had a really good season. We came out and got the job done, and we're excited that we get to play tomorrow."
Wisconsin beat the Wolverines 1-0 early in the year, and Stephanie would love to take the bragging rights away from her sister.
"We definitely want to get revenge on them," Stephanie said. "I'm from Wisconsin so it is a state rivalry for me as well as the one with my sister."
And who are mom and dad going to cheer for?
"I'm going to tell them to cheer for Wisconsin," Lindsay said. "But I'm sure they'll probably wear red one half and then green the other."