CARSON, Calif. - A skillfully-concocted goal by Gabi Hernandez in the 87th minute lifted the 13th-ranked UC San Diego women's soccer team to a 2-1 win over No. 25 Cal State Stanislaus in the semifinals of the 2012 California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Championship Friday afternoon at Toro Stadium. Cal State Dominguez Hills is serving as the host for the four-team event.
With the victory, third-seeded UCSD improved to 14-2-2 overall. Second seed Cal State Stanislaus fell to 15-4. The Warriors had edged the Tritons, 1-0, similarly on a goal in the last four minutes, in La Jolla on Oct. 19 in the lone regular-season meeting between the sides. Stanislaus was the defending CCAA champion, having won its first title at its home venue a year ago.
UCSD will play top-seeded and seventh-ranked Sonoma State for the CCAA Championship title and an automatic NCAA Championship berth on Sunday, Nov. 4. Kickoff is set for 12:30 p.m. at Toro Stadium. The Seawolves (16-2-1) rolled out 4-2 winners over Cal Poly Pomona in Friday's first semifinal.
With less than four minutes to go in regulation, senior midfielder Alexa Enlow hit a cross from the left that the Cal State Stanislaus defense cleared, but the ball went straight to Hernandez near the penalty spot. The senior tri-captain calmly deadened the ball with her chest, and placed a soft, right-footed shot into the upper right corner. It was her sixth goal of the year and second of the game-winning variety.
The final whistle moments later marked the first triumph at a CCAA Championship for head coach Brian McManus' 10-player 2012 senior class, including Enlow and Hernandez among seven four-year members. The Tritons as a group snapped a streak of being eliminated at the semifinal stage in each of the past three years since their last tourney title in 2008.
Earlier, junior Cal State Stanislaus forward Karenee Demery, a two-time All-American and two-time CCAA Most Valuable Offensive Player, had the game's first shot attempt just seconds after it began, going high with her effort.
UCSD's first scoring attempt came in the sixth minute as senior winger Jessica Wi's shot from the right edge of the penalty area went high and wide of the target.
In the 17th minute, Demery was denied a potential one-on-one opportunity inside the six-yard box as the Triton defense closed in on the nation's joint leading scorer. Minutes, later, Demery turned the corner and had her shot from the right diagonal saved at the near post by freshman Triton goalkeeper Kelcie Brodsky.
The Warriors were the more dangerous-looking side over the first 45 minutes, and it showed in the match statistics by way of a 7-2 advantage in shots taken.
Right after the restart, the Tritons had their best chance to score to that point, as Enlow corralled a long ball by Ellen Wilson on the left flank and put in a left-footed cross from near the end line. Cassie Callahan met the cross with a header at the near post, from close range, only to see it contact the outside netting.
Stanislaus junior Allie Dugan put her shot over the bar a short time later.
In the 52nd minute, UCSD was on the board. Wi sailed a high cross from the right that traveled over senior Warrior goalkeeper Millie Brown, with Callahan again winning the header, but this time guiding the ball into the empty net for her team-leading ninth goal of the year and the 1-0 Triton edge.
UCSD nearly doubled the lead through Callahan in the 55th minute, as the Coronado native had an initial shot blocked by a Stanislaus defender, before knocking in a rebound that was cleared off the line for a team save by sophomore Karli Nestler.
Demery finally got her goal at 61:46 for a 1-1 deadlock, as her dribble pushed through Wilson as the last defender before a left-footed shot beat Brodsky low toward the right corner. The unassisted score was her 19th of the campaign.
Callahan continued her air dominance in the 64th, heading down a perfect ball inside the penalty area, but fellow sophomore Izzy Pozurama smacked her hard, right-footed shot off the crossbar.
At 80:51, Demery got her head to a free kick into the six-yard area, but Brodsky lifted her right arm just in time to slap it over the goal for a corner kick.
Brodsky came up with five saves in all. Brown made a pair of stops. Cal State Stanislaus still outshot the Tritons on the day, 21-10. Demery had game highs of eight of those with five on target. Callahan had a team-best five for the Tritons.
On Sunday, UCSD will be in search of a league-record eighth CCAA title, and subsequently punch an eighth consecutive ticket to the NCAA Division II Championship. Sonoma State, on the other hand, looks for its first CCAA crown behind CCAA Coach of the Year Emiria Salzmann Dunn. The match will feature a live Internet TV broadcast, courtesy of the Toro Sports Network, with David Smock and Jim San Martin on the call. The CCAA Today pregame show begins at 12 p.m. from Toro Stadium, and can be accessed here. Live stats are available here. Both are free of charge and do not require registration.
Triton Notes: UCSD is now 14-3-3 all-time in 13 appearances at the CCAA Championship ... The Tritons had been eliminated in the semifinal round of each of the past three CCAA Championship installments, and are now 7-3-3 in semifinal action ... UCSD is 5-2 all-time in CCAA tournament play in Carson ... The Tritons are 11-3-1 against Cal State Stanislaus, including 1-1 this season and 1-1 now at the CCAA Championship ... UCSD is 9-0-1 outside of La Jolla and 1-1-1 against nationally-ranked foes in 2012 ... The winner by Gabi Hernandez came officially at the 86:09 mark, with Apryl Whitney's deciding goal in Cal State Stanislaus' 1-0 victory in La Jolla last month having come at 86:41 ... Looking toward Sunday, the Tritons have a perfect 7-0 record in their seven previous CCAA Championship final appearances.
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