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Courage clinch Challenge Cup East Division behind draw with Spirit

North Carolina Courage midfielder Brianna Pinto (5) and Washington Spirit defender Morgan Goff (14) jockey for the ball during an NWSL Challenge Cup match between the Washington Spirit and the North Carolina Courage on April 23, 2022, at Sahlen's Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, NC. (Photo by Jay Anderson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The North Carolina Courage are heading to the Challenge Cup semifinals after playing to a 2-2 draw with the Washington Spirit on Saturday.

The Courage clinched the East Division with 12 points, while the Spirit finished in second with 10 and await their playoff fate.

The second-place team with the most points will join the three Division champions in the Challenge Cup semifinals. Washington could secure that spot if the Portland Thorns fail to earn points in their match against Angel City on Sunday night.

The Spirit and the Courage each came out strong on Saturday, with their attacks pressing from the starting whistle.

The Spirit notched the breakthrough goal in the 15th minute, when Ashley Hatch capitalized on an error by the North Carolina defense to put her side up 1-0.

Debinha converted a penalty kick just before the break to send the Courage into halftime tied 1-1.

North Carolina got on the scoreboard again in the 52nd minute courtesy of Malia Berkley. The defender sent a rocket from outside the 18-yard box into the upper left corner for her first NWSL goal.

The hosts had a chance to extend their lead in the 72nd minute when they were awarded their second penalty kick of the game. Goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe made the save against Debinha to keep the Spirit in the match.

Awarded a penalty kick of their own in the 75th minute, the Spirit turned to Ashley Hatch, who slotted it in for the late equalizer.

The 2-2 draw was enough to send the Courage through to the semifinals, while the rest of the weekend’s results determine if the Spirit move on.