SAN DIEGO -- This was not a pretty game. But for UC Irvine, the end result was a thing of beauty as an 8-6 victory against Loyola Marymount launched the Big West-champion Anteaters into the national semifinals for the first time.

And the star was a freshman goalkeeper. Jillian Yocum had 13 saves, a handful of gutty hustle plays in front of her net, and fourth-seeded UCI advanced to Saturday’s match with top-seeded Stanford in the 2012 NCAA Championship.

“Defensively, inclusive of the goalies, I thought it was a good game,” eighth-year UCI coach Dan Klatt said. “I don’t think either team would walk away thinking they played well offensively, because there was a lot of really good looks at the goal that weren’t realized.”

When LMU did pull the trigger, Yocum was usually there. The last goal she allowed came with 3:24 in the third quarter that pulled the Lions to 7-6. But UCI sophomore Hannah Croghan answered 25 seconds later on a fantastic lob from way out on the right side. That made it 8-6 and also marked the last time a ball broke either plane, meaning both teams went scoreless the last 11 minutes of the contest.

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“I was proud of the way we were able to defend,” Klatt said. “I don’t think it was our best game of the season. But we stayed disciplined in the second half and were able to come away with the victory.”

“I think she had a good game but I would also say we were not hitting our shots up to our potential,” said LMU goalie Elise Ponce, who had nine saves in a big performance herself. “We had the opportunities and that’s something that happens once in a blue moon for us and it happened today unfortunately and it’s something that makes the other goalie look a lot better.”

This was the third time the teams had played this season. On Feb. 18, UCI (25-6) won 12-9 at LMU. A week later, in the Irvine Invitational, the Lions beat UCI in its home pool 9-6.  But that was a long time ago, not only in this season, but in the life of a freshman goalie.

“Jillian’s a competitor. She gets after it every day. The way she’s trained the last couple of weeks, she’s been preparing for this moment and this game and that it was a big deal for her to have the team’s back,” Klatt said. “I think in some really crucial situations, particularly in a 6-on-4 situation, she made a huge save. And also she was able to recover some balls right in front of the cage that some LMU players were going after pretty intensely and her intensity trumped theirs and that was really huge for us.”

Yocum, at 5-8 not that big for a goalie, is from Riverside, where she was coached in high school by UCI teammate Jessy Cardey’s father, Mike. Jessica was the MVP of the Big West Tournament.

“The whole family got me started in water polo,” Yocum said, “and they’re the reason I’m still playing.”

She also played in the SoCal club for among others, Klatt and Mike Cardey.

“We’ve accomplished a lot this season and we’re not done. This is really fun and an exciting time for us,” said Cardey, a junior who also went to Riverside Poly and scored two goals against LMU. “I’ve played with Jillian since high school and club and she’s just great and all of us are ready for tomorrow and excited and can’t wait.”

Yocum could have gone to, among others, LMU. She could never have imagined a year out of high school being on this stage.

“We worked really hard to get here,” Yocum said. “This is a great opportunity and playng in the semifinals is even better.

For all she did against LMU, Stanford (24-2) represents a whole other challenge.

“I think she’s barely grazing the ability level she has,” Klatt said, adding that he hoped the LMU performance would be a launching point.

“I’m just happy to be here,” Yocum said. “I love my team and we’re excited to play tomorrow.”

She admitted that she can be up and down, but that this was one of, if not her best game.

“I just tried, had a lot of help from my defense and was able to rely on them,” Yocum said. “The defense was great today.”