It was dire straits for the Bears heading into the fourth quarter. In a nonconference rematch with the Aggies, Cal lacrosse found itself trailing 14-10 on the road in a hostile environment. It didn’t help that UC Davis rocketed a goal in the opening minutes of the final quarter to take an intimidating 15-10 lead.
The deficit was familiar territory for a Bears team, with only one win all season long. Nevertheless, the blue and gold were able to brace for a late-game run by the Aggies and emerged victorious in a narrow 16-15 victory Saturday.
Initially, it was a familiar pattern — moments of excellence only to be dashed by an inability to maintain it.
The Bears kept the game tight all the way to the third quarter, keeping the score locked at 8-8, only to fumble the bag by the time it came to a close. Despite the efforts of Nikki Zaccaro and Amanda Morse, who kept the Bears fighting with two goals apiece, Cal gave up a devastating 6-0 run from 7:21 to 1:21 in the third.
However, Cal was able to keep the game in arms reach with two very quick goals in the span of 12 seconds, thanks to Kaia Evans and Maya Lawliss, but the damage was already done. Even though 14-10 isn’t a sizable deficit, it wasn’t exactly a cake walk to cut either. Especially when Kendall Seifert extended the lead to five, the game looked to be as good as over.
In order to cut a deficit and make a comeback, two things are needed: consecutive scoring by stringing back-to-back offensive possessions and absolute stone-wall defense. It’s a formula easier said than done — in the past, the Bears could only accomplish one or the other. In its comeback attempt versus Liberty, Cal exploded with six goals in the fourth quarter but also allowed the Flames to bury its defense with seven goals.
Versus Oregon in their first matchup, the Bears held the Ducks to one goal in the fourth but could only manage one goal of their own, which came with 1:40 left in the game: just too little, too late.
But in this rematch versus the Aggies, the blue and gold did both. They found the formula.
Consecutive scoring? In roughly four minutes, the Bears scored five consecutive goals. They did this by winning more draw controls, with five crucial ones down the stretch.
Absolute stone-wall defense? After the Seifert goal, the Bears pitched a shutout for the rest of 13:33 left in the quarter. Meanwhile, the Aggies could not score whatsoever.
With 3:11 left on the clock, the longest-tenured Bear in Cal lacrosse history came up big. Zaccaro tied the game at 15 apiece, and the terror of defeat in the eyes of the Aggies was visible to everyone in the stadium. But the comeback wasn’t complete just yet. Aggies’ goalkeeper Ashley Laing warded off the Bears with two clutch saves in the waning minutes of regulation. But a crucial turnover by Alex Agnew — recovered by Catherine Roxas — gave the Bears possession with just more than a minute left.
Cal called a final timeout to talk out its go-ahead chance. In comeback attempts, you lean on your leaders because they can become your heroes. So who did the Bears lean on in this potential game-winning possession? Enter Morse.
Third on the team in goals, Morse led the comeback charge with four goals up to this point, including a crucial goal during its 5-0 run. With 40 seconds left, Morse rifled her shot to the back of the net, getting the Bears to a 16-15 lead. Heroic.
With the clock dwindling, the Aggies made a desperate attempt to tie the game. Winning the draw control, they raced down the field and got a very good look at the goal. But to their misfortune, Bears’ goalkeeper Riley Drullinger blocked Agnew’s shot attempt with five seconds left, sealing the game and earning the Bears their second victory.
This was one of the most impressive games from Cal lacrosse in a long time. There was visible growth from the Bears shown in their comeback victory: They showed an impressive consistency in the face of a considerable deficit. The Bears tied their win total from last year, with a chance to earn another one against Stanford next week.
Kenzo Fukuda covers lacrosse. Contact him at [email protected].