Cal advances to the second round of the NCAAs in thrilling fashion

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Cal goalkeeper Kat Messinger has played a total of 80 minutes this entire season, yet on Saturday she may have made the biggest save for the Cal women’s soccer team this year.

Up 4-3 in a penalty shootout against No. 11 Santa Clara, Messinger – who replaced starting goalkeeper Emily Kruger specifically for the shootout – needed one more save to send the Bears to the second round of the NCAA tournament. As she saw the Broncos’ Ellie Rice step up to take the fifth and last penalty, Messinger had an idea as to where the ball might be placed.

“I read all the penalties and was really to close to saving them,” Messinger said. “I knew where she was going. I was committing myself to the (top right corner) area.”

And Messinger got it right. Before she even realized that the shootout was over, she was surrounded by her teammates in the middle of the pitch at Buck Shaw Stadium.

Rice, on the other hand, stood frozen with her head bowed down, silently weeping alone over the sudden end to Santa Clara’s season.

From the first minute to the last penalty shot, the 1-1 match was a thriller, a soccer classic that will be long remembered by the players and coaches.

The Bears (12-5-3, 5-4-2 in the Pac-12) came into Buck Shaw Stadium looking for revenge.

Nearly two months ago at the very same grounds, Cal’s season took a drastic turn when star striker Katie Benz broke her leg, ending her career with the Bears. Cal has not completely recuperated since then, struggling to find another consistent goalscorer on the team.

As if to send a message to the Broncos, the Bears started the match aggressively. As the contest wore on, both sides became more and more physical.

In the middle of the rising physicality was referee Said Ravanfar, who seemed a bit flummoxed throughout the grueling match. But ultimately for the Bears, the officials did more good than harm, as he failed to see a clear handball by defender Emi Lawson in the penalty box at the 70th minute, which would have warranted an automatic penalty kick for Santa Clara.

“During the game, I am a player that yells at the officials,” defender Danielle Brunache said. “Afterwards, I understand they are people and they are doing their job to the best of their abilities.”

Despite the dogfight, the match was an offensive firecracker with tons of missed opportunities. In the 31st minute, Cal took the lead when forward Kory Lamet capitalized on Lauren Battung’s shot deflection. But in the 56th minute, defender Cali Reis tied the tilt at 1-1, finishing midfielder Julie Johnston’s shot from five yards out.

After the tying goal, both teams created many goal scoring opportunities but to no avail. The best chance came in the 59th minute when Battung snaked past four defenders in the penalty box, only to be stopped by Henninger in close range.

“We were able to deal with Santa Clara’s pressure for long spells throughout the match,” Cal coach Neil McGuire said. “Two teams like this shouldn’t have played in the first round of the NCAAs. This was at least an Elite Eight competition today.”

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