STANFORD, Calf. - The No. 19 Santa Clara women's soccer team (13-6-2) kept its season alive by dispatching Long Beach State, 1-0, tonight in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Stanford's Laird Q. Cagan Stadium. Junior Bridgett Miller scored the game's only goal in the 84th minute and junior goalie Bianca Henninger stopped 12 shots in her eighth shutout of the season.
Although the result landed in favor of the Broncos, head coach Jerry Smith was less than happy with the team's uncharacteristic performance. The 49ers outshot Santa Clara 22-5 and had to rely on Henninger and the play of the Bronco defense to keep them in the game.
"First, credit to Long Beach," said Smith. "I thought they came out here and outworked us. I thought they were a more physical team, more hardworking team, so credit to them so we congratulate them on a great season and a great game here today. They were the more assertive team and took the game to us, but defensively I thought we did enough to keep them off the scoreboard."
Santa Clara almost didn't get the shutout; surviving a scare from The Beach in the 25th minute when 49er Shawna Gordon headed in a corner kick past Henninger. Gordon was ruled offside and the goal did not stand, keeping the game tied nil-nil.
Henninger's performance was one for the ages, as she tied Sue Wall's Bronco NCAA record of 12 saves in a single match set back in 1992 against North Carolina.
"Bianca's been fantastic for us all year and had another fantastic effort today," said Smith. "She is a big reason why we are in the NCAA Tournament and advancing in the NCAA Tournament. It's not just her goalkeeping, meaning she made great saves, [it's] her leadership. She is the best gameday leader we have on this team. Her distribution is fantastic, and she takes so much pressure off our back line by the fact that she can distribute the ball 60, 70 yards up the field. I can't say enough good things about Bianca, that's why she's such a great player for us and internationally in the U.S. National Team system. Again, she's a big part of why we're still playing in the tournament."
Henninger's save of the game came with 12 seconds left as The Beach pushed for the tying goal. Karina Camacho got off a shot that looked as if it would just sneak inside the post, but Henninger was there to make the full-extension save, pushing the ball wide.
"When you get in those moments, Coach Marshall addressed it before the game, you just have to trust your training," said Henninger. "She [Camacho] broke through our back line off kind of a little flick-on and I just had to do what I've been training for all year."
Along with Henninger, Miller was credited by Smith for leading Santa Clara to victory. Miller made the most of her time in the game, entering for the first time at 67:12 and scoring her second goal of the season on a through-ball feed behind the 49er defense from senior Kendra Perry. Perry's assist was her second in as many games.
"I was thrilled," said Miller. "I was really lucky that Kendra and I connected so well on the pass and were able to capitalize on it. I saw Kendra at a perfect angle, I wasn't sure if she was going to be able to put the right amount of pace on it, but she got it around the defender to me. The keeper was on one side, but [Kendra] was able to get enough on it."
"I thought the goal we scored was a good soccer play," said Smith. "We talked about with this kind of team we were going to have to put the ball on the ground, and that dribbling and passing on the ground was going to be the key to us being an effective attacking team. We didn't do it nearly as much as I wanted to today, but that's exactly what happened on the goal. Credit to Bridgett [Miller], she hasn't started many games for us, didn't start today, but came in off the bench and I thought was a real sparkplug for us. That obviously was the difference for us today on the scoreboard."
The Broncos now have a date with the tournament's top seed, Stanford, who defeated Sacramento State, 3-0, in its first round matchup. The Cardinal is unbeaten this season at 19-0-2 and took the last battle against Santa Clara, 2-0, on Oct. 3. The second round matchup is slated for 1 p.m. on Sunday at Stanford.