IRVINE — To thine own goal be true.
A pair of own goals cancelled themselves out to allow top-seeded UC Irvine to come away with a 2-1 victory over Pacific in the semifinals of the Big West Conference women's soccer tournament Thursday at UCI.
The No. 11-ranked and top-seeded Anteaters (17-1-2), who have now won 14 straight and are unbeaten in their last 17, play host to No. 2-seeded Long Beach State in Sunday's title match at noon. Sunday's winner earns an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament, in which UCI has never competed.
The Anteaters received the game-winning goal in the 54th minute, when Nikki Forrest's low corner kick just outside the goal line caromed off a Tigers defender and into the goal.
UOP (8-8-3) had pulled even on an own goal in the 28th minute when a free kick from near midfield off the foot of Brittni Beeman went to UCI defender Alyssa Humphrey about 10 yards in front of the left post. Humphrey leaped to head the ball, which glanced backward just under the crossbar and into the net.
UCI opened the scoring on another corner kick, as Forrest initiated with a drive to the far post. UCI defender Sarah Devine popped a header back toward the other post, onto the foot of junior defender CoCo Goodson, who punched it into the net in the17th minute.
Goodson, a transfer from Texas playing her first season at UCI, now has eight goals. Goodson also had the game-winner in the second overtime period in the Anteaters' 1-0 regular-season verdict against Pacific on Oct. 1 at UCI.
"That was certainly an equalizer to have an own goal on both teams," UCI Coach Scott Juniper said. "I thought the team played really well tonight. I thought [the Tigers] were fortunate to get their goal. This is the third Big West Tournament semifinal I've been in and these seniors have been in and it's the first one we've won.
"You come into the game 8-0 [in conference play, a Big West regular-season first] and you wonder to yourself 'How are we going to the team again?' But this is a team that loves to win and loves to compete for each other. It's one more win and that's how we treated it before the game. I think the last couple years, we treated it as a special game when we get to this point. But it was different this year. We have a different level of confidence and we treat it like any other game. This team has played like champions for most of the season and [it] did it again tonight."
UCI posted a 1-0 win at Long Beach State (13-5-2) in their regular-season conference meeting on Oct. 21 and this group of UCI seniors have never lost to the 49ers.
"There are teams that have felt confident going into it and missed out [on an NCAA at-large berth]," Juniper said. "So we're not going to leave anything to chance. We're going to go after it Sunday as if that's our one shot of making the tournament and if we can secure an automatic bid, we leave nothing up to the selectors. I think we've got a shot, regardless, but we'll play to win and we'll sleep a lot better Sunday night if we get the automatic bid."
UCI had a 14-4 advantage in shots, including four shots by sophomore midfielder Dana Sanderlin.
Forwards Tanya Taylor and Lexi Kopf, midfielders Mar Rodriguez, Devon Delarosa, and Judy Christopher, as well as defenders Goodson, Humphrey, Devine and Forrest, helped secure the win.
Senior goalie Danielle de Seriere had one save.
"A goal is a goal and I'll take it," Forrest said of the winning tally, the first own goal UCI has benefited from this season.