First-Half Deficit Dooms UCSD

Freshman Anne Wethe attempted one of six Triton shots in UCSD’s game against Seattle Pacific. The Tritons were unable to use momentum from their first-round 1-0 overtime win in the second round. (John Hanacek/Guardian)

WOMEN’S SOCCER — Senior forward Natasha Belak-Berger scored No. 19 UCSD’s lone goal in a 3-1 loss to No. 4 Seattle Pacific as the Tritons made their exit from the Division-II National Championships.

Playing in the postseason for the 22nd time in 23 years, the Tritons notched a first-round victory over BYU-Hawaii 1-0 in double overtime two days before being bounced by the Falcons.

The Tritons finish their season 15-4-4 with a California Collegiate Athletic Association crown and a promising future.

Head coach Brian McManus gave credit to the seniors for helping a young squad mix and get to a level no one expected the team to achieve.

“No one knew what to expect to start the season,” he said. “To get where we did was tremendous.”

Seattle Pacific drew first blood with a 30-yard strike to the right corner in the 27th minute. The Falcons would strike again only 22 seconds before halftime. With time ticking down, Seattle Pacific drew a corner kick and was able to get a head on it to slip it by Triton senior goalkeeper Jessica McGovern.

It took only another three minutes out of the half for Seattle Pacific to score again on a ball that was tipped by UCSD’s senior defenseman Amanda Esquivel for an own-goal, according to McManus.

McManus said the team reacted well to the goal right before halftime, but the quick goal in the second half was the killer.

“We went into the locker room thinking that there was no reason to panic,” he said. “We were still in the game. If we would have got through the first 15 minutes of the second half, we would’ve had a better chance.”

Belak-Berger scored her final goal as a Triton in the 79th minute as she maneuvered her way into the box, dribbling through three Falcon defenders and sending a well-placed shot to the back left corner of the net. It was her team-high 13th goal of the season.

The Tritons had another chance to pull within only one when freshman Anne Wethe slipped her way past the Seattle Pacific defense and drilled a ball just wide of the net. The shot, had it gone in, would’ve given the Tritons a serious opportunity to steal the game, McManus said.

“I know [Seattle Pacific’s] coach and he panics,” he said. “He tells the team to just kick the ball toward the end of games and that’s when our chances came. To be fair, Seattle Pacific had an excellent team and they were in the Final Four last year. I expect the winner of its game against Western Washington to make it back to the Final Four this year.”

The Triton defense had only surrendered three goals in the last seven games combined before allowing three against Seattle Pacific. It was the first time since the 2005 campaign that UCSD has allowed three goals in one game.

McManus said the Tritons’ grueling schedule of six games proved to be too much for UCSD, especially facing a rested Seattle Pacific squad.

“The CCAA Championship was the final straw,” he said. “With the double-overtime win on Thursday, our legs were gone. Credit our team though as it kept playing those final 15 minutes the way they did. We took it to them.”

UCSD prevailed in its fifth double-overtime match of the season as freshman forward Shelby Wong netted her first career goal to lift the Tritons over BYU-Hawaii. She received the through pass from fellow freshman forward Sarah McTigue in the box, getting a one-on-one opportunity with the Seasider goalkeeper.

From there it was all Wong, who put a one-touch on the ball and drilled it past the goalkeeper for the golden goal.

With the departure of five seniors, it will be up to those 14 freshmen, the newcomers and the rest of the returning squad to battle out for the starting positions.

“Lexi [Zattarain] will be a senior and Lisa Bradley will be a junior next year,” McManus said. “They’re our oldest returning starters. This year was hard, but next year is going to be 100 times harder.”