In the Bears’ second round game of the NCAA tournament, the first half brought jubilation and hope; the second, dejection and heartbreak
The Cal women’s soccer team (16-6) held onto an early lead through the opening half of the match against two-seed San Diego State, but the second half of Friday evening’s game saw the Aztecs eventually clinch the game, 2-1, in the closing minutes at the SDSU Sports Deck. The loss ended the Bears’ season.
“There’s no doubt that this is one of the most impressive seasons I’ve been a part of at Cal, and I felt the team deserved an opportunity to go further,” head coach Neil McGuire said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t execute well enough to do that.”
Cal took the early lead when a ball was played to Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Ifeoma Onumonu down the right side. Onumonu rounded the corner and beat her defender, then served the ball into the box.
After junior forward Rachel Mercik redirected the cross, Kaitlyn Fitzpatrick slotted it past San Diego State goalkeeper Rachel Boaz.
The Bears took the 1-0 lead in the 12th minute and maintained the advantage through the remainder of the first half.
Yet the tide turned in the 53rd minute when Aztec forward Hannah Keane ran onto a long ball, dribbled into the box and fired a shot into the far corner of the goal to tie the game, 1-1.
“We came out in the first half and scored a very good goal,” McGuire said. “In the second half, they scored a quick early goal that put us on our heels.”
Cal had been carrying the momentum, but the tying goal shifted it to San Diego State. The Aztecs were the aggressors in the second half, while the Bears resorted to defending their goal.
“When we were a goal up the crowd was not energetic but more subdued,” McGuire said. “The energy on their side when they scored their goal shifted.”
Despite the momentum shift, the game remained a tie until the closing minutes. Both teams created scoring chances, though the Bears’ offense noticeably lacked the controlled footwork and leadership of senior Lauren Battung, who was sidelined due to an injury.
At the other end of the field, the Aztecs continued to barrage Cal’s defense as both teams fought for the go-ahead goal.
“They are very fast, very aggressive, and they play a style that forced that ball at our defensive line, giving them opportunities on goal,” said McGuire.
With seven minutes left in regulation, San Diego State succeeded in breaking the stalemate. The Aztecs’ Tiffany Hurst sent a 20-yard shot soaring just inside the left post and just past the outstretched fingers of Cal goalkeeper Emily Kruger.
The goal put the Aztecs up, 2-1 with a mere minutes left on the clock.
“When you get to this stage in the tournament, you are always going to play good teams and it comes down to critical moments,” McGuire said. “I felt like we were playing well enough to advance further in the tournament.
“We had opportunities and we didn’t take them. San Diego State took theirs.”
Taylor Brink covers women’s soccer. Contact her at [email protected]