BELLINGHAM, Wash. -- Stephanie Hamilton has just five goals in her two-year Western Washington career. But two of them have been game winners in the NCAA Division II tournament.
Hamilton's first-half goal put the Vikings in front to stay as WWU advanced to the West Regional championship contest with a 2-0 victory against Seattle Pacific in a second-round contest of the NCAA tournament on Saturday at Orca Field on the Whatcom CC campus.
The Vikings, the No. 2 seed in the West Region, improved to 18-1-1 overall. They are 10-0-0 at home, and will host No. 4 seed Cal State San Bernardino in the regional final either Thursday or Friday at Orca Field. The Coyotes defeated top-seeded Cal State Stanislaus 1-0 in overtime in Saturday's other West Region semifinal at Turlock, Calif.
"I'm so excited for our players," WWU coach Travis Connell said. "This was one of our goals. Now we get a chance to achieve another of the goals."
SPU, the No.6 seed, completed its season 15-6-1. The Falcons, who were making their 11th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, reached the semifinal with a 1-0 triumph against Sonoma State on Thursday.
Hamilton's goal came in the 32nd minute. After a shot by Kristin Maris forced a save with a shot from a tight angle, the ball bounced out to Elise Aylward. Aylward collected the ball with her back to the goal and laid it off to the unmarked Hamilton, who calmly finished left-footed from 14 yards out.
"Elise dropped it back to me, and I thought, `Just place it,'" said Hamilton, who scored a 2-1 overtime winner against Cal Poly Pomona in the opening round of the NCAA tournament in 2012. "I knew I had to be composed."
The goal came during a first half largely controlled by the Vikings, but SPU, which lost to WWU by a 2-1 margin twice during the regular season but beat WWU in a penalty shootout in last week's GNAC tournament championship game, came back into the match more in the second half.
The Falcons' best chance to equalize came midway through the second half, when a low shot from the top of the penalty area by Ashley Shaw forced WWU goalkeeper Alyssa Beauchamp to dive to her right to knock the ball wide of the post.
The Vikings finally got an insurance goal with just under two minutes remaining. Maris received a throw-in and played the ball to Aylward at the end line to the right of goal. Aylward then fed Anna Geldenhuys, who held off a defender to finish from six yards out.
"Those last two minutes were the first time in the four games I've been able to relax," Connell said. "We have a lot of respect for SPU as an opponent. They've been in the tournament more than anyone else in our conference, and it takes a complete effort to beat them."
WWU had a 17-9 advantage in shots. Beauchamp had six saves for the Vikings, and Natalie Harold had five stops for SPU.
The triumph puts WWU in the regional final for the second consecutive year, and for the third time overall. The Vikings suffered a 2-1 overtime loss to UC San Diego at Denver last season, and lost to SPU 1-0 in overtime, at Kirkville, Mo., in 2010.