Oct. 18, 2012
STANFORD, Calif. - On Thursday night, the Stanford women’s soccer team did something it hadn’t done since 1999 – it failed to hold a two-goal lead.
But that only prepared the path for Mariah Nogueira and Emily Oliver to rescue the No. 2 Cardinal in a 3-2 victory over Washington State, enabling the Cardinal to maintain its lead in the Pac-12 women’s soccer race and extend a pair of impressive streaks.
After the Cougars stormed back to tie the match late in the first half, Nogueira headed in the winner in the 62nd minute to give the Cardinal its third goal of the night off a set piece.
But that wasn’t enough. The Cardinal needed Oliver to make three big saves in the match, including a late mid-air fingertip push over the bar to preserve the lead.
“She’s a great goalkeeper,” Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe said. “We expect her to make big saves in big games.”
With four matches remaining, Stanford (13-1-1 overall, 7-0 Pac-12) inched closer to its fourth consecutive Pac-10/12 title, but the path is formidable. Still ahead are undefeated UCLA, third-place California, and a Senior Night finale against Washington on Sunday (5:30 p.m.).
Stanford required its fourth one-goal victory of the conference season to extend its conference winning streak to 38 and its home unbeaten streak to 62. But the manner was unconventional.
A direct free kick by Chioma Ubogagu put the Cardinal ahead 2-0 in the 21st minute. This came only five minutes after Lo’eau LaBonta had flicked in a low corner kick to the near post by Courtney Verloo.
But a strange thing happened on the way to a blowout victory – Washington State fought back. Goals by Micaela Castain (her 10th, in the 25th minute) and Zoe Jeffers (39th minute), from crosses into the heart of the Cardinal defense, tied the score.
Not since Sept. 24, 1999, had Stanford blown a two-goal lead. That came in a 3-2 loss at Virginia. The last time it happened at home is a mystery. Records are unavailable in that category before 1999.
“When we conceded a goal I think people were disappointed and I think we dropped our level because of that,” Ratcliffe said. “Iinstead of saying, ‘Hey, they’ll score every once in a while, we need to keep working hard.’ I think we dropped our level and let them back in the game.”
However, unlike the 1999 debacle, this one had a happy Cardinal ending. One reason was the play of reserve Hannah Farr. The two-sport athlete – she’s an all-conference lacrosse player – brought much-needed fire in the second half.
“She was a good ball-winner,” Ratcliffe said. “She was keeping possession and creating things for us. We needed more energy in the center mid, and she came in and provided us with that.”
Then, it was Nogueira’s turn. On a free kick just inside Washington State’s half, Ubogagu pushed the ball to Rachel Quon in the middle. Quon, with a quick touch, sent the ball over the top of the defense to Nogueira, who allowed the ball to glance off her head and into the net.
It was 11th game-winner among 20 career goals for Nogueira, a defensive midfielder. Fifteen of those have tied the score or put Stanford ahead. It also was the team-leading seventh of the season for the senior captain, and sixth with her head.
“Mariah’s deadly on set plays,” Ratcliffe said. “She’s amazing in the air, and every time we get a dead ball situation, there’s a good chance she’s going to score.”
With a lead to protect, Oliver provided the plays that allowed the Cardinal to do just that. In the first half, she came out of the box to block a breakaway. In the second, she made an instinct save with her right hand on a hard close shot by Jeffers.
Finally, her best of the night came on a 23-yard free kick by WSU’s Castain in the 75th minute. The shot looped over Stanford’s four-player wall and was dipping under the crossbar, only for Oliver to make a leaping fingertip save to push it barely high.
Danger averted, and in spectacular fashion.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics