A split second is all it took to decide the season.
For the Cal women’s soccer team, that split second came in the 87th minute of its first round match of the NCAA tournament against Pepperdine at the Tari Frahm Rokus Field in Malibu, Calif.
The No. 23 Bears and the No. 22 Waves battled to a stalemate until less than three minutes left on the clock, when senior Lauren Battung crossed the ball into the box. The cross was nearly cleared by a Pepperdine defender, but the scramble in the box saw the ball fall to Cal midfielder Ariana Martinez.
“I made sure I got contact on ball and it went into the back of the net,” Martinez said. “We were fighting so hard and I did not want to go into overtime.”
Martinez drove the ball from the near post into the far corner of the net from eight yards out on a half-volley. That goal gave Cal (16-5) the 1-0 victory over Pepperdine (14-7) and sent the team into the second round of the tournament.
“We were hopeful we would find a way to score because we did have a lot of opportunities, but Pepperdine did a good job of preventing us from getting clean looks at goal,” Cal coach Neil McGuire said. “When Ariana scored it was a great relief.”
The Bears travelled to Malibu for a windswept postseason tilt. Before the match, the team did not forecast the impediments that Mother Nature would impose.
“We felt Pepperdine stared faster than we did and had wind behind them in first half,” said Cal head coach Neil McGuire. “Our team did very nice job defending against the wind.”
Wind was a major factor in the game and helped each team gain the advantage in the tale of two halves. The Waves notched five corner kicks and six shots in the first half; Cal had no corner kicks and five shots.
The weathervane changed in the second half toward Cal’s direction, as the Bears used the blustering wind to their advantage, recording eight shots and four corners. Pepperdine recorded two shots and no corner kicks.
“They had the wind in the first half, which allowed them to be the aggressor,” McGuire said. “They had the majority of chances in the first half, but we controlled much of the game in the second half.”
Pepperdine’s closest chance came within a minute and half after kickoff. The Waves’ Anisa Guajardo sent a header wheeling toward the net before defender Amanda Glass cleared it with her head from the goal line.
At halftime, the Bears felt the pressure and made some adjustments to get the win. The squad emphasized distributing the ball to the flanks more often and capitalizing on crosses and corner kicks. The team became the aggressor and played the midfielders in attacking positions.
That strategy soon resulted in the game-winning goal.
“They worked tirelessly all season, so to see them go up with four minutes left was exciting,” McGuire said. “Our team controlled the last few minutes very well and denied Pepperdine goal scoring opportunities.”
With the win, the Bears will play the No. 2 seed San Diego State on Friday.