OL Reign’s Rose Lavelle dribbled near the right corner with two San Diego Wave defenders in her path. Lavelle passed to the nearby Veronica Latsko, who carried the ball further up the line.

Just feet from the baseline, with Wave defenders crashing into the box in front of her, Latsko let loose a high cross. The ball hung in the air as it sailed across the goalmouth before ringing off the far post and into the netting.

“That was not supposed to be a shot,” the 27-year-old forward admitted after the match.

Yet Latsko’s improbable goal propelled the No. 4 Reign to a 1-0 win over No. 1 San Diego and secured them a spot in the NWSL Championship against Gotham FC at 8 p.m. ET Saturday, Nov. 11.

The Reign started their 2023 playoff run with their first postseason win since 2015. They have not played in an NWSL final since 2015, and they have never won the title. Gotham won their first two playoff games in franchise history this postseason. So the season will end with a first-time champion.

And with her goal against the Wave, Latsko became the third player in NWSL history to score in back-to-back playoff games.

OL Reign’s offensive dominance showed itself at the beginning of Sunday’s semifinal, as the club managed three shots on goal in the opening 30 minutes. They finished the first half with four scoring chances to the Wave’s two.

But the Seattle-based club didn’t break through until early in the second half, when Latsko’s boot put an end to San Diego’s season.

And it’s a good thing the Reign got on the board when they did. After the club controlled the ball for much of the first half, San Diego made its presence known in the second half. The Wave eventually took the majority of possession, shots and chances created in front of their home crowd at Snapdragon Stadium. But the Reign defense stood fast, clearing two crucial corners in the 87th and 88th minutes to prevent the Wave from breaking through.

“I think that our team is built on the foundation of defense, and when you get the defensive part right from top to bottom, that’s when you can win games,” Latsko said.

In the end, Latsko’s wide-angle shot was enough to extend the Reign’s season and retiring star Megan Rapinoe’s career. And Rapinoe’s teammates plan to rise to the occasion at the NWSL Championship.

“I think it’s really special to be able to get her there,” Lavelle said. “I think it’s really special to finally get to this moment and be able to be on this stage. Obviously, the job is not done and we have a big week ahead of us preparing for that.”

Megan Rapinoe has done a lot for the game of soccer.

For the teammates of the retiring OL Reign star, though, Rapinoe’s impact extends beyond her accomplishments. For example, her soccer smarts have helped to make everyone around her better.

“What P has done to impact me is, it goes beyond just the field,” OL Reign forward Veronica Latsko told CBS Sports’ “Attacking Third.” “I think that on the field playing with her has made me a smarter, better soccer player. And the things that she can see, it’s difficult to describe because I wouldn’t notice it otherwise. She’s such a smart player. She’s so talented. And she’s so willing to share that information with everybody because she wants everyone around her to be the best that they could possibly be.”

Latsko added that it’s “so much fun” to play with Rapinoe, which she has done since joining OL Reign in 2022.

“To play with such a brilliant player, with such enthusiasm for the game still, it’s incredible,” she said. 

And as much as Rapinoe excels on the field, she also is a staunch advocate off it. That’s something that doesn’t go unnoticed, and she inspires her teammates to do the same, Latsko said.

“Off the field she’s one of the biggest advocates for women and in women’s sports. It’s such an incredible time in my life to be a part of everything that she’s doing,” Latsko said. “I’m not the only one that can say this but, she inspires a lot of people to not just branch out and advocate for change but actually make that change. And it’s amazing, it’s been an incredible experience.”