Video by Elisabeth Tharp, Story by Nathan Keil | Sports Editor
Baylor soccer continued its incredible postseason run Friday night. The Bears outshot Rice 28-12, outlasting the Owls 3-2 in front of a crowd of nearly one thousand at Betty Lou Mays Field.
The offensive pace, consisting of 40 shots and five goals, was much different than the first one between the two teams, when the game ended in a 0-0 tie after 110 minutes of play on Aug. 24 in Houston.
Baylor head coach Paul Jobson said he didn’t expect the offensive outburst, but that this type of game was exactly what he expected to see from Rice.
“Definitely not the score line, but the match itself. I would have loved to have been a fan watching that game. That was a fantastic soccer game. It was a perfect 34-36 RPI game that the committee got right,” Jobson said. “We knew it was going to be a tough game. This was a tough first-round match. They battled hard. They’re very dynamic going forward, which you guys saw tonight. They’re very good on the attack. We were able to take advantage of some opportunities of our own going forward because we’re very dynamic too. Overall that’s a great team win today against a really good Rice team.”
Sophomore forward Raegan Padgett delivered the game winner in the 74th, minute sending the Bears on to the second round of the NCAA Tournament next weekend.
Padgett found herself in the middle of the scrum in front of the net and just managed to get enough leg behind her shot, something she said they are taught to do in those situations.
“I remember that someone served it up in the air and it came down. It was kind of being kicked around and I just got my foot on it,” Padgett said. “We’re always taught to keep going for the ball. I was just fighting until I got it in.”
But even after Baylor regained the lead, Rice would not go quietly into the night.
The Owls were set up with a corner kick in the 78th minute, but were turned away. Rice sophomore midfielder Erin Mekeska got a look at the goal in the 82nd minute, but freshman goalkeeper Jennifer Wandt made the save.
Rice was unable to orchestrate another shot after Mekeska’s, despite continuing to drive the ball deep into Baylor territory, a credit to the backline of the Baylor defense.
In the first half, it did not take long for the offensive pace to be set in motion. After feeling each other out for the first few minutes, Baylor got the first opportunity in the eighth minute. Senior midfielder Alina De Lima used some fancy footwork to make her way into the box, but had her shot blocked, leading to a corner kick for the Bears. The initial attempt was blocked, but De Lima got another look which sailed it high over the net.
The Bears earned a second corner kick, but sophomore forward Camryn Wendlandt missed the shot wide right.
The tide began to turn toward Rice beginning with its first shot in the 12th minute. The shot missed wide right, but the Owls started to find their rhythm, offensively controlling possession.
In the 17th minute, the Owls got a wide open look after junior defender Marissa Topolski lured Wandt out of the net and passed it over to senior defender Aliza Wolfe, who found the back of the net, giving Rice an early 1-0 lead.
Topolski then got another look a minute later and fired a bullet, but Wandt dove to her right to make the diving save.
Baylor did not panic, earning a corner kick in the 25th minute. Piercy hooked it straight toward senior defender Precious Akanyirige whose header was blocked at first, but Akanyirige sent the rebound over Rice sophomore goalkeeper Maya Hoyer for the equalizing goal.
Akanyirge said the team prides itself on never giving up and that mentality has helped them battle back from deficits throughout this season.
“We always pride ourselves on outfighting teams and, I mean no one likes to get scored on but we had the whole rest of the game. We were trying to keep our heads up and keep going at it and not give up,” Akanyirige said. “It was awesome to get those next couple of goals.”
It was that fight and refusal to quit that served the Bears well just five minutes later, when Baylor regained the lead after De Lima got behind the defense and fired a rocket past a diving Hoyer to put the Bears in front 2-1.
Baylor had several other opportunities late in the half for insurance, and the Bears took the advantage into the break.
In the second half, Baylor had an abundance of chances to grab some insurance. The Bears had two chances in the 54th minute, but both junior midfielder Julie James and junior forward Lauren Piercy missed.
In these missed opportunities, Rice got itself back in the game. After sending away two Baylor chances, Rice leading scorer senior forward Nia Stallings maneuvered herself into a gap in the Baylor defense and fired a strike across the box to Mikeska, who got it past Wandt and tied the game at two.
But once again, Baylor did not quit and continued to force the Rice defense to make a play.
De Lima had an opportunity in the 71st minute, but her shot missed high. Baylor did not waste its next opportunity, as it Padgett delivered the go-ahead goal in the 74th minute.
Nursing a 3-2 lead, Baylor kept its foot on the gas pedal, looking for insurance. Brown had a chance in the 77th minute, and Piercy hit the crossbar in the 79th minute.
This driven attitude is something that Jobson said his team practices so that it maintains a play-to-win mindset.
“We needed to stay aggressive. You’ve got to do what you are comfortable with. You can’t change your game plan and hold on to a lead,” Jobson said. “We’ve had teams in the past that sometimes you get into that situation you hold on just not to lose. We always talk about you’ve got to play to win every minute whether you’re ahead or not.”
The approach offensively paid off for Baylor as its dominant shot control led to more opportunities for the Bears. Piercy led the team in shots with 10, tallying an assist on all three Baylor goals. De Lima notched six shots as well. The Bears also led in corner kicks 9-3, but committed five more fouls than the Owls.
The win over Rice continues Baylor’s streak to four straight wins over teams that either beat or tied them during the regular season, joining its wins over Texas, Oklahoma State and TCU at last week’s Big 12 Tournament.
The Bears will get to celebrate and enjoy the moment for now before getting back to work tomorrow in preparation for the next round. This feeling is something that Padgett and the Bears hope to replicate moving forward.
“It feels kind of surreal. We’re at our own field so it doesn’t feel like we’re in an NCAA Tournament game at all. It just feels like we’re at a big home game again,” Padgett said. “It was just awesome to have our fans and athletes and students to cheer us on. It was just an awesome night.”
Baylor (14-5-2) will take on No. 3 USC at 3:30 p.m. at Ellis Field in College Station. The winner will then take on the winner of No. 2 Texas A&M and Notre Dame at 6 p.m. Sunday.