HOUSTON — For the second straight season, Stanford found itself depending on penalty kicks to advance to the College Cup final.
Like last season, the Cardinal came out on top. After each team converted its first nine attempts in the tiebreaker, Amir Bashti made it 10-for-10 for Stanford. Tar Heels defender Alex Comsia then sent his try over the crossbar to end it, giving Stanford a 10-9 win.
"They had just as many good chances as us, and it could have been a 1-0 game either way," Stanford coach Jeremy Gunn said.
Stanford (14-3-5) will face Wake Forest in the College Cup final on Sunday in search of its second straight national championship.
"It's not his fault. We could have done things in the game to have his back," North Carolina defender Colton Storm said of Comsia's miss. "It could have been any of us."
"It's the nature of the game," North Carolina coach Carlos Somoano said. "Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don't. Sometimes there's moments you seize the moments, and sometimes it runs away from you."
North Carolina (14-3-4) had the two best chances of the game. Late in the second half, forward Alan Winn was denied by goalkeeper Andrew Epstein, who made a nice save with his legs.
Later, Epstein made the best save of the match in the final seconds of the second overtime on a shot from forward Tucker Hume. After gaining possession in the right side of the 18-yard box, Hume unleashed a shot that Epstein deflected wide with his legs.
"He made the plays to keep the game at 0, and he deserves credit," Somoano said.
After a flurry of corner kicks and a free kick in an attacking area, Stanford had the best opportunity to score in the first overtime on a header from Drew Skundrich, but he put if over goalkeeper James Pyle, who had six saves. Foster Langsdorf, the Stanford goal leader who scored in the team's first three tournament games and has 15 on the season, had three shots and two on goal but was unable to break the deadlock before the game went to penalty kicks.
"Any result like that is going to be tough to swallow," Storm said. "Stanford's a really good team. We each had our chances. National semifinal, it's going to be tough to swallow no matter what."
While Epstein was unable to stop any of North Carolina's penalties in the shootout, his saves late in the game enabled Stanford to continue its quest for a repeat.
"Andy's never really attracted much attention, but when you're his coach you appreciate him," Gunn said. "You can depend on him."
Stanford has won 15 of its last 18 games after starting the season with three ties and a loss. The Cardinal have yet to concede a goal through four tournament games, while North Carolina's season ends after a third consecutive tournament shutout.
After winning the first national championship in program history last season, Gunn praised his team for continuing to push forward this season.
"It's incredible," Gunn said. "You've always got to be optimistic. There's no point in being anything else. We started the year so well in January. I thought, 'These players are so hungry.'"