FULLERTON — The end for the UC Irvine women’s soccer team came without precedent, and left little room for explanation.
And, after No. 3-seeded UC Riverside scored in the 107th minute to end the two-overtime Big West Conference Tournament semifinal at Cal State Fullerton, UCI Coach Scott Juniper wasn’t even left with any hope.
“I think there is no chance,” Juniper said of a potential at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament, after his team, seeded No. 2 in the conference tournament that propels its winner into the NCAA field, fell to 11-7. UCI came into the tournament with a Ratings Percentage Index of 67, best among Big West teams.
UC Riverside (8-12-1), which had been beaten, 2-0, by UCI in their regular-season meeting on Oct. 10, overcame a 16-5 deficit in shots and had only three shots on goal to the Anteaters’ seven. But the Highlanders made the most of their opportunities.
It was only the third win for Riverside in 14 meetings with UCI, which lost on penalty kicks to Cal State Fullerton in the 2012 conference tournament and was beaten by Long Beach State in the 2011 and 2010 championship game.
UC Riverside, making its first conference tournament appearance since 2005, advanced to Sunday’s title game against either top-seeded Cal Poly San Luis Obispo or No. 4-seeded Cal State Fullerton.
The sixth Big West Tournament appearance in Juniper’s seven years at the helm began well for the designated home team, as senior midfielder Mady Solow hooked in a free kick from 19 yards out that was set up by a foul just outside the box against junior forward and team scoring leader Laura McGrail in the 57th minute.
It was only the second goal of the season for Solow, a second-team All-Big West honoree. But it appeared to be more than Riverside could surmount as the Anteaters dominated possession and flow for virtually all of regulation.
“It was one of those games that we dominated 99.9% of the game,” Juniper said. “It’s bizarre. I don’t know how many shots [the Highlanders] had on target. They hardly had the ball for the whole 90 minutes.”
It didn’t take much time for the Highlanders to convert their two scores.
Riverside’s first tally came in the 73rd minute when a sliding tackle by sophomore goalie Corey Tobin was ruled a foul in the box against charging Highlanders’ forward Tyler Cunningham, who launched herself over Tobin and fell to the turf without getting a shot off after pursuing a long service into the box.
“There was contact but the ball was already out of play [when the foul was called to set up a penalty kick],” Juniper said. “But if it had been us, I’d have really been disappointed if [the penalty kick] wasn’t given.”
Freshman Danielle Giltner converted the penalty kick to knot things in the 73rd minute. It was her second goal of the season.
As it had to that point, UCI had the better of the chances the rest of regulation, as well as the first 10-minute overtime session.
But when UCI defender Haley O’Brien tried to screen out senior Andrea Morales with a ball rolling toward the end line in the 107th minute, Morales, who had not produced an assist all season, reached around O’Brien with her right foot and poked the ball back into play just before it went out of bounds.
The ball bounced toward the top of the box, dead center in front of the goal. Velasquez, who had no goals and only two shots to that point, ran onto the ball and directed it into the left side of the net, prompting many UCI players to drop instantly on the damp turf, despondent in defeat.
“The result is disappointing, but the performance is fantastic,” Juniper said of his team’s effort. “I thought our players were superb in everything they did tonight. It was one breakaway [for the Highlanders] and they get the PK. Then, it seemed like the second shot on goal after that ended up in the back of the net. We were pinging them past the post and in behind them. That’s soccer.”
The loss halted a three-game winning streak for the Anteaters, who had won six of seven coming in.
McGrail, who joined senior teammates Natalia Ledezma and Zoya Farzaneh as first-team all-conference picks, led the ‘Eaters with four shots, all on goal.
Junior Jenna Pellegrino, a second-team all-conference choice, had three shots, with Ledezma, Solow and Cami Privett had two shots apiece.