LA JOLLA, Calif. - Third-ranked University of California San Diego scored two great goals within a 40-second span early in the second half and made them hold up in a 2-1 triumph over No. 16 Concordia University (OR) in a second-round match of the 2017 NCAA Division II Women's Soccer Championship Sunday at Triton Soccer Stadium.
The result meant a historic 500th career win for 31st-year UC San Diego head coach Brian McManus, as his star forward tandem of San Diego natives Mary Reilly and Katie O'Laughlin got the goals to make winners out of the short-handed Tritons, who were down four starters with a true freshman making her college debut in goal.
Sunday's victory sets up a rematch in the West Region final between No. 1-seeded UC San Diego and second-seeded, seventh-ranked defending national champion Western Washington. As the West's top remaining seed, the Tritons will host that showdown at Triton Soccer Stadium in La Jolla, this Friday, Nov. 17, with a tentative primetime kickoff of 7 p.m.
It was only fitting for McManus that his 500th win came on the able merits of his incredible strike partnership. Down to just three out of seven seniors on the roster who were available in the second half, one of them, O'Laughlin, made sure her class wasn't stepping out without getting their beloved coach that remarkable milestone.
At 53:33, Reilly, a junior out of Chula Vista (Hilltop HS), accepted a pass from freshman left back Delaney Whittet, and did her thing, squaring the ball on her right foot before unleashing a ferocious shot from 25 yards straight on that looped over the outstretched arms of Cavalier goalie Anna Miller and into the upper left corner. It was her team-best eighth on the year, and Whittet's third assist.
Just like last Sunday's California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Tournament final, Reilly opened the scoring and O'Laughlin (Carlsbad/Pacific Ridge School) matched her tally, joining her at eight goals apiece a mere 40 seconds later. Another true freshman, Caitlin McCarthy (Carlsbad/Carlsbad HS), played the ball out on the left wing. Junior winger Summer Bales, celebrating her 20th birthday, took one touch and sent a left-footed cross into the middle, toward the edge of the six-yard box. O'Laughlin, the senior All-American, headed it into the near-side netting for 2-0. It was Bales' league-best and career-high seventh assist, and McCarthy's fifth.
Concordia did not go down without some pushback, as in the 80th minute, sophomore Quinn Williams found the ball at her feet toward the top of the penalty area and poked her right-footed shot into the bottom left corner, unassisted, for her own eighth goal on the year. That made for a nervy finish, but the Tritons held firm.
Katie Wilkes, the aforementioned true freshman in the UC San Diego goal, finished with four saves and a first career win. The Pacific Palisades native (Palisades Charter HS) was forced into her first collegiate action as redshirt sophomore Angelica Ramos was hurt late in the CCAA Tournament final.
With the result, UC San Diego improved to 16-2-2 overall, and now a perfect 12-0 at home, earning itself at least one more shot to play there in 2017. The Tritons are an unbeaten 13-0-2 over their last 15 games, and 12-1 in one-goal margins, including such wins in each of their last four. Concordia, out of Portland, Ore., ends a great campaign at 16-4-1 as first-time Great Northwest Athletic Conference regular-season champion and first-time NCAA Division II Championship participant.
McManus is now among a select group of five who have ever coached NCAA women's soccer, at any level, to reach the 500-win plateau. He joins North Carolina's Anson Dorrance (825), UConn's Len Tsantiris (570), William Smith's Aliceann Wilber (555) and The College of New Jersey's Joe Russo (502).
Miller, a sophomore, wound up with four saves in the Cavalier net. UC San Diego held a 17-15 edge in total shots.
Even after Concordia pulled one back, there were at least two tense moments for the Triton back line. With about three minutes to go, senior right back Aimee Ellis produced an enormous slide tackle on junior midfielder Gabrielle Ewing near the edge of the box as the Cavaliers' leading point-scorer was about to go in on goal by herself. Ellis had missed the entire CCAA Tournament due to illness, but was back in the starting lineup, and may have saved the day with that late, lunging challenge.
Then with under two minutes left to play, Ewing took a short corner kick to McKenna Stocker, who sent a dangerous cross in from the left. Wilkes calmly snatched it out of the air like she had been playing back there all season long.
Reilly almost grabbed the opener much earlier, just 2:18 in, as she galloped into the area after taking a through ball from senior playmaker Elisa Martinez (El Cajon/Francis Parker School), and cut her defender onto her left foot, only to drag the attempt just wide to the right of the target. In the 25th, Martinez stepped over the ball on a free kick, and instead it was McCarthy who let loose with a left-footed blast that skipped off the top of the crossbar and over. UCSD produced some nice combination play on the counterattack in the 32nd as O'Laughlin quickly hit Reilly, who in turn found Bales on her left wing, but Bales' left-footed shot was too high.
UC San Diego finished the first half with a season high of seven true freshmen on the field, in starters McCarthy, Whittet, Wilkes and Natalie Widmer, and substitutes Michelle Baddour (San Diego/University City HS), Alexis Kirson and Abby Ross.
Going back to that opener by Reilly, it was really an extraordinary team goal, with seven Tritons contacting the ball during the sequence. Redshirt sophomore Natalie Saddic (San Diego/Torrey Pines HS), a rock at center back for a third straight game after being forced back there from her holding midfield role due to injury, plugged the Cavalier attack. Whittet poked the ball out for Bales, who played forward to Reilly. Reilly switched the point of attack to the right wing for Widmer, who found McCarthy in the middle. McCarthy turned and switched again to Bales who had never stopped running, on the left. Bales took that solitary touch and crossed. O'Laughlin's diving header put the exclamation mark on the beautiful action.
Western Washington was a 2-0 home winner over third-seeded Sonoma State of the CCAA on Saturday. The Vikings got past the Tritons, 2-1 in overtime, in last year's West final in Golden, Colo., ultimately going on to crown an unbeaten 24-0-1 season with a first national title in program history. Their 39-match win streak was finally snapped in their regular-season finale, 2-0 at home by Concordia back on Oct. 28.
Triton Notes: Sunday marked the first all-time meeting between the teams ... UC San Diego is 25-11-3 in its 15 NCAA Division II Championship appearances … The Tritons have won 18 straight at home overall, since a 1-0 defeat to Colorado School of Mines on Sept. 11, 2016 ... The Tritons have allowed seven goals during their current 15-game unbeaten streak (13-0-2), the first one an own goal at Cal State Dominguez Hills on Sept. 22 ... UCSD is 12-1 in one-goal games this year, with seven 1-0 decisions in its favor ... Senior starters Makenzie Brito, Brie Diaz and Jordyn McNutt, alongside redshirt sophomore starting goalkeeper Angelica Ramos, were all unavailable ... Senior playmaker Elisa Martinez was not able to return in the second half.