LOS ANGELES -- Fifth-seeded Arizona State finished its inaugural NCAA postseason appearance on a high note, knocking off sixth-seeded UC Irvine 6-5 to take fifth place at the 2014 NCAA Championships on Sunday.
“I’m really pleased with the effort and intensity of our team. They trusted us and trusted each other,” head coach Todd Clapper said of his team’s performance after the game. “They played with a lot of heart. It was a great way to finish the season.”
The third time these two teams have met this season, the game matched the pace and grittiness of the others in recent years: a low-scoring back-and-forth affair with the end not decided until the literal end of the game. Sunday’s contest was no exception with neither team finding much consistency on the offensive end and a late stop being necessary to seal the deal.
“We played an interesting game. We started slow.” Pardi said after the game. “UCI was controlling the offense early, then the second half we picked it up. It was a real team effort.”
ASU overcame the sluggish start to take the lead for the first time in the game with 6:04 remaining in the fourth quarter on a beautiful goal by Pardi from the elbow from about six meters out for her second of the game to put the Sun Devils up 5-4.
“I feel like on my two goals, I had clear opportunities because the team set me up well,” Pardi said. “We stuck to the plan and it worked out.”
The biggest play of the game came with 3:30 left in regulation as Abbey Kerth was able to draw a penalty shot from center and Izabella Chiappini made the Anteaters pay with her lone goal of the contest and the final one of the game for ASU to put the team up 6-4.
“It was a really physical game. We battled all game,” Kerth said. “When we pulled ahead, it changed the momentum and gave us the surge to win.”
The two-goal lead didn’t eliminate the tension of the final three minutes, however, as UC Irvine (25-9) drew a penalty shot of its own with 1:03 left in the game and Jessy Cardey made things interesting by converting.
The Sun Devils would run down the shot clock on the opposite end, choosing to win the game with their defense and UCI taking over possession with 27 seconds left. The defense held firm, forcing a bad pass to center the goalkeeper E.B. Keeve was able to snag to end the game.
Keeve finish with eight saves in the contest and owed some credit to the goalposts, which attracted numerous UCI shots throughout the match.
ASU fell into a 3-0 hole with 6:30 left in the second quarter as the team could just get nothing going on offense and found several shots of their own clanking of the posts. Ao Gao finally stopped the bleeding with ASU’s first goal and the Sun Devils cut the deficit to one on Pardi’s first of the game with about three minutes left in the frame.
Alkistis Benekou evened things up with a sweet backhand shot with 6:31 remaining in the third quarter and the two squads exchanged another pair of goals before ASU took over for good.
The Sun Devils faced eight 5-on-6 situations in the game, but held UCI to just one goal on those opportunities.
The win gave ASU a 2-1 record at the NCAA ournament this season in the team’s first appearance.
“The NCAA tournament is an elusive goal, saying you ‘want to make the NCAAs.’ You don’t know that that means until you are here,” Clapper said of the experience. “The majority of our group is coming back next year. Now they know what it means. From the standpoint of recruiting, getting into the NCAAs is going to help sell our team.“