EVANS, Ga. - UC San Diego will play for the national championship on Saturday.
The fifth-ranked Tritons got goals from sophomores Cassie Callahan and Izzy Pozurama and held on for a 2-1 victory over No. 3 Grand Valley State in the 2012 NCAA Division II Women's Soccer Championship Semifinals at Blanchard Woods Park on Thursday evening. The Peach Belt Conference and Columbia County are serving as hosts.
With the win, UCSD improves to 17-2-4 on the season, stretching its unbeaten streak to nine matches. On Saturday against the winner of the late semifinal between No. 2 West Florida and 20th-ranked defending national champion Saint Rose, the Tritons will be vying for their eighth national crown, all under 26th-year head coach Brian McManus, and first since 2001. Kickoff is set for 12 p.m. PT.
All the while, this UCSD squad could aptly be termed the Redeem Team for having overturned a very un-Triton-like 4-0 defeat at the hands of these same GVSU Lakers in the 2010 title match in frigid conditions in Louisville, Ky.
The Lakers, the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) and Midwest Region champions out of Allendale, Mich., ended their season at 20-2-3.
A mere 28 seconds after the second-half whistle, UCSD was on the board just as suddenly and stunningly as one could imagine. The Tritons earned a throw-in on the left side, taken by senior Alexa Enlow. The action swung from Pozurama to senior tri-captain Gabi Hernandez, whose deft layoff put Callahan on the ball, and the Coronado native's right-footed lob-shot from outside of 20 yards mysteriously floated over the head of standout Laker goalkeeper Chelsea Parise. The decorated senior is the Daktronics Midwest Region Player of the Year and NCAA Division II's career leader in shutouts with 59. The goal was Callahan's team-best 10th.
At 60:56, it was two thanks to great build-up play by the Tritons. Senior Jessica Wi crossed from her right wing to Callahan at the back post near the end line, and Callahan headed back across into the middle, where Pozurama tapped in her own header from the six-yard box for her ninth goal of the season and a commanding 2-0 advantage.
GVSU grabbed one back at 80:58 as Charlie Socia's hard shot from distance was tipped off the crossbar by freshman Triton goalkeeper Kelcie Brodsky, but fell to senior forward Ashley Botts, who made no mistake from close range, slamming her shot into the upper netting for her team-best 18th goal of 2012.
Though the Lakers pressed from their for an equalizer, and came close, they were unable to find one as the Tritons avoided the prospect of a fifth straight overtime contest this postseason and advanced to their second national final in three seasons.
Grand Valley State, the designated home team for the game, had a half-chance early on in the aftermath of a free kick from the right wing, but the ball ultimately bounced harmlessly into the arms of Brodsky.
The first actual shot of the game came from UCSD, as Hernandez had her attempt saved by Parise in the 11th minute. Moments later, Hernandez received a through ball down the left diagonal and took a decent shot with her left foot that trailed narrowly wide of the target.
Callahan produced a decent opportunity to open the scoring for the Tritons in the 20th minute, getting to a loose ball in the penalty area and getting a right-footed touch on it that Parise had to jump up to nab.
Following a right-sided Hayley Johnson corner kick in the 24th minute, Britnee Chesney had her near-post shot blocked by the defense before the ball found its way to the opposite wing. There, Ellen Wilson's low, right-foot shot was cleared off the line at the base of the post by junior GVSU defender Tayler Ward.
Grand Valley State's first two shots of the first period were of the long-distance variety that went well over Brodsky's bar, but the Lakers' third shot of the evening nearly made it a 1-0 game in the 28th minute. Senior forward Alyssa Mira met the ball on the right side of the 18-yard-box and whipped a right-footed shot that curled just wide of the far post.
Wilson came close again in the 34th minute, as another Johnson corner was eventually crossed from right to left into the box by junior midfielder Rachel Leslie for a charging Wilson, whose shot was parried away by a diving Parise.
Double headers off GVSU's first corner kick of the match generated a still-relatively-easy save for Brodsky from Maria Brown with under seven minutes to play in the first half. The stop for Brodsky marked the 100th of her freshman campaign.
The period still had some drama left in it, as UCSD senior reserves Laura Gordon and Mary McWalters just missed out on combining on the game's opening goal, with Gordon's darting ball to the far post almost latched onto by McWalters.
UCSD used the wings effectively with Wi, Enlow and sophomore Kylene Hill to create corner kicks and chances, and had the better run of play through the first 45 minutes. The Tritons out-shot the Lakers for the half, 8-6.
In between the two early Triton goals in the second stanza, the Lakers missed wide from point-blank range. Pozurama and GVSU's Jenny Shaba also traded similar-looking shots that went high of each other's goals from right-sided crosses.
The Grand Valley State onslaught over the final 15 minutes began in earnest through Brown at 78:18. Her attempt from distance seemed destined to give her side a goal, only for Brodsky to tip expertly over her bar for a corner kick. Within seconds, Mira had shot low from straight on, but right at Brodsky.
At 85:21, Kelsey Fiscus hit a left-footed ball that contacted the crossbar and went over for a goal kick.
Finally, it was Brodsky to the rescue yet again a minute later, charging to the edge of the area, going to ground and sacrificing her body to twice deny Kayla Addison in succession, before Mira's follow-up was blocked away and a handball decision was made by the match referee.
Brodsky wound up with eight saves on the night, while Parise made four stops, all in the first half, in the final match of her stellar GVSU career.
The Tritons were outshot for the match, 26-14, including 20-6 after the interval.
Triton Notes: UCSD is now 23-8-3 all-time in 12 appearances at the NCAA Division II Championship ... The Tritons are 11-6-1 in NCAA Division II Championship action outside of La Jolla ... UCSD is 11-0-3 away from home in 2012, including 3-0-2 on neutral fields ... Thursday's match snapped a string of four straight overtime matches for UCSD this postseason and marked the second-ever meeting between UCSD and GVSU, with the series even at one win apiece ... Both sides began the day on lengthy unbeaten streaks, with the Tritons at eight (6-0-2) and the Lakers at 11 (10-0-1) ... Ellen Wilson has still played every minute of every match for UCSD as a senior ... Kelcie Brodsky, Britnee Chesney, Alexa Enlow, Hayley Johnson and Jessica Wi have also started all 23 matches ... Johnson and Wilson were in the lineup for the 90th time in a UCSD uniform, having started every game the Tritons have played since the 2009 opener ... Kelcie Brodsky's 107 saves are a single-season school record, better than Kami Poma's 91 stops from 2001 ... With her eight saves, Brodsky fell one short of her single-game high of nine ... Izzy Pozurama's goal was her first since Oct. 28 and ended up as her team-leading fifth game-winner this season ... The assist by Gabi Hernandez was her first this season ... Wi's assist on the game-winner was her seventh of 2012 ... It matches her single-season high of seven from her 2009 freshman campaign, and gives Wi 19 helpers in her career ... Wi previously scored the double-overtime game-winner against Seattle Pacific in the NCAA Second Round and assisted on the overtime game-winner against Western Washington in the NCAA Third Round.
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