Virginia Beach, Va. -- With the clock winding down in the first overtime period, Caitlin Mertens found herself alone with the ball, 25 yards from her target.
The Lynchburg College junior took a touch to gather herself, and then she let a wild shot fly.
"I just hit is as hard as I could and tried to place it the best that I could," Mertens said.
It was perfect.
The ball sailed past the last line of the Bridgewater defense and just inside the far post, the ripple of the net setting off the Hornets' celebration. On the wings of a golden goal, the Old Dominion Athletic Conference's women's soccer championship trophy will be coming back to its home at Lynchburg College for the seventh time in eight years.
Mertens' goal, assisted by sophomore Georgie Duggan, broke a scoreless tie in the ODAC title match with just 18 seconds left in the sudden-death first OT, and second-seeded Lynchburg earned a 1-0 victory over No. 4-seed Bridgewater at Virginia Wesleyan's Trinder Center on Sunday afternoon.
And while Lynchburg's team stormed the field in a wild celebration, the goal also prompted a sigh of relief. The fitting end to a match the Hornets deserved to win.
Lynchburg outshot the Eagles 17-6 in the match and controlled it from start to finish. But goals proved elusive, thanks in large part to stellar play by Bridgewater keeper Hayley Talbott. The Eagles' netminder made a whopping 10 saves in the match.
"We knew if we kept shooting it would come eventually," said Mertens.
The Eagles weren't the only ones caught by surprise on Mertens' long shot. Her own sideline was ambushed as well.
"I didn't see it coming," Hornets coach Dr. Todd Olsen admitted. "I was actually planning who I was going to start in the second overtime."
But the coach added that he wasn't surprised by the outcome. The team stepped up to the challenge of tournament play with two well-played matches.
"It was really just some fantastic soccer on both days," Olsen said. "We played with passion and heart the whole time. We never game up. It was the way we play."
Along with relief over Sunday's victory, the Hornets can take comfort in reassuming the mantle of ODAC dominance, which Olsen felt had been in doubt since LC's semifinal exit from the 2016 tournament.
"We wanted to take back the ODAC and let people know that we're a force," Olsen said.
A force indeed. The automatic bid that comes with a league title secures Lynchburg's 11th consecutive NCAA Division III tournament appearance and the 18th in program history. Sunday was also the third time that LC's women's and men's programs have swept the ODAC championships. The last time that happened, 2014, the women won the Division III championship.
Lynchburg will find out its tournament draw on Monday at 1 p.m., when the NCAA's selection show will air on NCAA.com.
2017 ODAC Women's Soccer All-Tournament Team
Alex Davidson, Va. Wesleyan
Georgie Duggan, Lynchburg
Bailey Kratz, Bridgewater
Grayson Mathews, Bridgewater
Emily Maxwell, Lynchburg
Caitlin Mertens, Lynchburg
Tate Royer, Lynchburg
Meagan Ryan, Roanoke
Laura Sullivan, Roanoke
Hayley Talbott, Bridgewater
Zoe Traficante, Va. Wesleyan