SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Opening the 24th NCAA tournament in program history, Santa Clara topped Cal by a final of 2-1. The win puts the Broncos at 15-4-1 and advances them to the second round while the loss ends Cal's season at 11-5-5.
The Broncos head to Virginia Tech to take on Boston University on Friday in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
"It was a good team effort out there today," Santa Clara head coach Jerry Smith said. "The first thing I look for in an NCAA tournament game is how many senior starters the other team has. Cal has eight senior starters so we knew it was going to be a tough game. They're a top-25 team so it was going to be a very tough first round opponent. We've been saying for two years that these are the types of games you have to score your second goal and we told the team that at halftime. The team showed good character to come back and take the lead and, more importantly, hold on to the lead. We were in the same position today as we were in the Stanford game but this time we were able to close out the game."
Santa Clara tied Cal 14-14 in shots and outshot the Bears 8-7 in shots on goal. Sofia Huerta and Alyson Birgel scored the two Santa Clara goals while Brittany Ambrose and Julie Johnston each had one assist. Andi Tostanoski had six saves in net for the Broncos.
"Cal was building from the back and Brittany [Ambrose] stripped the ball before passing it to me," Huerta said of her game winner. "She played an amazing ball to me and I had an open shot. I'm so excited because I've hit goals wide and to the keeper in the last few games but this time I was able to slot it in just right. It was an amazing play for Brittany. She came off the bench and provided so much energy like she has all season. She's the one who got the goal for us."
Sarah Jackson sent a pass to the box in the 17th minute that gave Santa Clara the first scoring chance of the game. Johnston headed the ball just wide of the left post to keep the match scoreless.
The Broncos jumped out to a 1-0 lead in 22nd minute off of a free kick just outside the box. Johnston tapped the ball to Birgel who lined up the shot and fired to the bottom right of the goal. The goalkeeper got her body on the ball but it rolled under her and into the net.
Tostanoski made a great diving save in the 29th minute on a shot form Kaitlyn Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick blasted a shot from outside the goal to the right post but Tostanoski grabbed it out of the air for the save.
Cal evened the score up in the 48th minute off of a corner kick. Rachel Mercik took the corner and sent the ball into the box where Emi Lawson was able to get a head on it and knock it past Tostanoski.
Santa Clara had several chances to score on a scramble in the box in the 58th minute. Huerta fired a shot that was saved but on the rebound Morgan Marlborough was able to get off another shot that went just high. The score remained tied 1-1.
The Broncos took the lead in the 70th minute off the foot of Huerta. Ambrose made a steal and found Huerta open down the field. Huerta was able to gather the ball and fire a perfect shot into the back of the net to put Santa Clara up 2-1.
The Bears tried everything they could to tie the score in the final minutes of the game but the Bronco defense held strong to close out the 2-1 win.
"Credit to our seniors, credit to our captains, and credit to Julie Johnston," Smith said. "You have to have great leadership in these moments. We have seniors and we have other captains, but I thought Julie's leadership in the front line, then at midfield, and then at the backline was one of the biggest differences out there today for the Broncos."