No. 2-seed Stanford slips past UCLA in semifinals, prepares for title defense
BOSTON -- Stanford will get its chance at an NCAA three-peat Sunday following its semifinal win against UCLA on Saturday at Harvard's Blodgett Pool.
The second-seeded Cardinal (29-2) will face No. 1-seed USC, which defeated Hawaii in Sunday's national title game. It will be the third title-game meeting between the schools in four years.
Saturday it was goalie Kate Baldoni and the Cardinal defense which stepped up to stymie the Bruins at nearly every turn. Baldoni, last year's National Collegiate Championship MVP, made 12 saves in the contest while her UCLA counterpart, Sami Hill, made 11 as the Cardinal scored its lowest output of the season.
"That was an impressive performance by two sensational goalies," Stanford head coach John Tanner said. "I was extremely impressed with our response to their gameplan. They really packed it in, tried to rely on Sami and she did a great job. We kept our composure as the game was close and unfolding and did not allow our missed opportunities to frustrate us. I couldn't be prouder of my team."
"I have to give it all to the defense, they had some great shot blocks. Mel [Seidemann] had one, Kaley [Dodson] had one, I honestly don't remember touching the ball the whole first half," Baldoni said of the defensive effort. "We were well-prepared, we knew where their shooters were and we just did a very good job defending."
It was a three-goal second period that created all the space that the Cardinal needed in the hard-fought contest. After a tight first period which ended in a 1-1 stalemate, Maggie Steffens gave the Cardinal the lead for good with a goal to the near post from the left side at the 6:06 mark. While Baldoni and the Cardinal defense continued to stifle the Bruin attack, Melissa Seidemann skipped a goal into the upper corner of the cage before halftime to double the Stanford lead. Steffens fired home from the left side for her second goal of the game 28 seconds before the break, giving the Cardinal a 4-1 advantage.
UCLA tightened its defense in the third frame, holding the Cardinal off the board behind Hill, but Baldoni continued to match her counterpart save for save. The duel continued until there were 40 seconds remaining in the period, when Emily Donohoe finally cracked the Cardinal defense to make it 4-2.
But that goal did not stop the Cardinal as Baldoni continued coming up with big saves in the final period. Stanford got a lift when Jillian Garton scored her second goal of the game with 6:39 remaining to re-establish the three-goal cushion. That was all the help Baldoni and the defense needed as they strung together a run of crucial stops in the waning minutes to snuff out any UCLA hopes of a comeback.
Sunday's title game will be the fourth meeting between Stanford and USC this season. The Trojans have captured two of the first three meetings, most recently an 11-7 victory in the MPSF championship game on April 28.
"I'm excited and I know that my whole team's really excited," Baldoni said. "JT's done a really good job preparing us for them. We've played them three times so far this year and [Sunday's] going to be really fun. I'm excited to go out there and play some stellar defense."