Category archive: Portland Pilots
In a tournament with few surprising results to date, no team will have the element of surprise on its side in the quarters.
No. 1 STANFORD vs. No. 2 BOSTON COLLEGE
Stanford profile: The Cardinal have the best front line in the country, although it overshadows a solid lineup from back to front. Senior forward Kelley O'Hara has emerged this season as the Hermann Trophy front-runner, but opponents find it hard to key on her with Christen Press and Lindsay Taylor alongside. When the midfield gets itself involved consistently, which isn't always the case, the Cardinal are almost impossible to defend.
Boston College profile: Likewise, an attacking third loaded with recognizable names overshadows a strong, composed back line and an athletic keeper. Freshmen Kristen Mewis and Victoria DiMartino might be the two most talented players, but there is plenty of experienced skill, including senior playmaker Gina DiMartino, Victoria's sister. Outside back Hannah Cerrone is valuable going forward and will need to balance that against measuring the Cardinal forwards.
No. 1 UCLA vs. No. 2 PORTLAND
UCLA profile: The Bruins have quietly been steamrolling opponents of late. In their past eight games, including three NCAA tournament games and four other games against NCAA tournament teams, they've put together a 29-4 edge on the scoreboard. A case could be made that forward Sydney Leroux has been the nation's best player over the past month.
Portland profile: You don't lose a Hermann contender like Michelle Enyeart -- injured in the final game of the regular season -- and continue without skipping a beat, but Portland has come close in putting up 10 goals through the first three rounds. There is speed all over the field, particularly on the flanks with players such as Kendra Chandhoke, and forward Danielle Foxhoven is as technical and polished a finisher as there is in the tournament.
No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA vs. No. 3 WAKE FOREST
North Carolina profile: The defending champion obliterated UCLA and Notre Dame 7-2 and 6-0, respectively, but had it share of ups and downs. Without injured speedster Nikki Washington, Tobin Heath and Casey Nogueira remain the most dangerous playmakers. Since allowing four goals in back-to-back losses at Florida State and Miami, a defense keyed by Whitney Engen, Rachel Givan and Kristi Eveland has posted eight consecutive clean sheets.
Wake Forest profile: Outscored 8-7 in their last five games before the NCAA tournament, the Demon Deacons have regained their defensive touch and found the luck any team needs in the postseason (advancing past South Carolina on a last-second header in the third round). Junior keeper Amanda Barasha has been solid since taking over the starting role following the team's 4-0 loss at North Carolina in late September.
No. 1 FLORIDA STATE vs. No. 2 NOTRE DAME
Florida State profile: Goal scorers always get the lion's share of attention, but Tiffany McCarty and Jessica Price deserve every bit of it. And a midfield that includes Amanda DeCosta and Becky Edwards can hold its own on any field. It's a young back line, regularly starting two freshmen and two sophomores, but it's a group with experience at both the college and international level.
Notre Dame profile: Moving Lauren Fowlkes up top proved the move that brought Randy Waldrum's lineup together after a slow start to the season. A less high-profile development, having Haley Ford available (she played 90 minutes in the third-round win against Oregon State after battling injuries for much of the past month) further solidifies an improving defense.
The tournament's top overall seed going into the first weekend lived up to the billing. The Cardinal piled up chance after chance in a 2-0 first-round win against Northern Arizona that could easily have produced crooked numbers on the scoreboard.
Third round: vs. 4-seed Santa Clara
2. Florida State
A 3-0 win over California in the second round was the kind of statement that at least momentarily separates the Seminoles from the teams to follow below. Cal matched the Seminoles shot for shot, but that only provided keeper Erin McNulty with a chance to show Florida State has all parts of the field covered.
Third round: vs. Texas A&M
The Pilots demolished Denver in the first round, no small feat against a better team than most of the high seeds faced, but needed a late Halley Kremenski goal (her second of the game) to get by Washington in the second round. Unlike the first meeting between the Pilots and Huskies this season, the WCC champs held a dominant edge on shots (23-3) and corner kicks (10-3), suggesting the offense still has kick without Michelle Enyeart.
Third round: vs. 3-seed Virginia Tech
4. North Carolina
A 1-0 first-round win against High Point raised eyebrows, but a 4-0 win against Georgia on Sunday returned them to their normal resting places.
Third round: vs. 4-seed Maryland
First, the bad news: UCLA fell behind early in its first NCAA tournament game this postseason. Of course, the good news is it scored the next 12 goals in a pair of romps against Boise State and San Diego State.
Third round: vs. Virginia
6. Notre Dame
Perhaps the beneficiary of the lone notable first-round upset, with Central Michigan knocking off Purdue, Notre Dame rolled past IUPUI and Central Michigan by an 11-1 margin. Melissa Henderson scored a mere six times.
Third round: vs. Oregon State
7. Boston College
The Eagles won the unofficial New England derby, knocking off Harvard and Connecticut to advance to the Sweet 16. But it's getting past the next round that has the attention of a team that has made the third round in five of the past six seasons.
Third round: vs. Wisconsin (location TBD)
8. South Carolina
South Carolina's defense is back, adding a pair of shutouts to a run that began with strong showing the SEC tournament semifinal and final. It's good to have a hot hand at keeper in the postseason, and Mollie Patton's mittens are sizzling at the moment.
Third round: vs. 3-seed Wake Forest
9. Wake Forest
It was an uneventful weekend for the Demon Deacons, exactly what they needed to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1999. Junior Casey Luckhurst scored three times -- the first three goals of her Wake Forest career.
Third round: at 2-seed South Carolina
The Cavs may not be higher than No. 10, but no team did anything more impressive than Virginia in putting up six goals in 20 minutes to erase a 2-0 deficit in a second-round game against Penn State in State College, Pa.
Third round: at 1-seed UCLA
11. Santa Clara
The Broncos needed three overtime periods and a penalty shootout to get past Michigan State and Oklahoma State, but they're back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005. They've scored one or fewer goals in eight of their past 10 games, but they're officially 6-2-2 in that stretch.
Third round: 1-seed Stanford
12. Texas A&M
The Aggies have just one clean sheet in their past five games, but they proved resilient in the NCAA tournament, scoring twice early to take control against Memphis in the first round and outlasting LSU in penalty kicks (with four conversions in four attempts) in Baton Rouge in the second round.
Third round: at 1-seed Florida State
13. Oregon State
Beat Ohio State on its home field in the first round and No. 3 seed Florida in overtime in the second round. Not too shabby for a virtual NCAA tournament neophyte.
Third round: at 2-seed Notre Dame
The Terrapins did no wrong in the first two rounds, routing Monmouth and shutting out Washington State 1-0 in the second round. So is this too ranking low? Perhaps, but that three-game losing streak to enter the NCAA tournament is hard to forget.
Third round: at 1-seed North Carolina
15. Virginia Tech
The offense re-awakened against Murray State and Dayton. A 3-1 win against the Flyers in Dayton was especially impressive for a team that is 3-3 in true road games.
Third round: at 2-seed Portland
Not a team that's going to be uncomfortable in low-scoring games. Wisconsin outlasted Arizona State in penalty kicks and protected a first-half goal for a long time in a 1-0 second-round win against Central Florida.
Third round: vs. 2-seed Boston College (location TBD)
The celebration could begin without her. A stroke of coaching genius and a good tape job made sure it would last.
Playing for the first time in more than a month because of a partially torn hamstring, Keppler came on as a second-half substitute and scored her first career goal with four minutes to play against the Scarlet Knights. When she came on with about 20 minutes to play, it also marked, by her account, her first game action as a forward since she was about 9 years old. A midfielder in high school and club soccer, she began her West Virginia career by moving to center back before the injury.
"Honest to God, I'm not a forward," Keppler offered, a touch of amazement at what had just transpired still in her voice. But in the midst of a season in which West Virginia has started 10 freshmen and sophomores at various times and had scored just 19 goals in 19 games before Sunday's quarterfinal, coach Nikki Izzo-Brown had something else in mind when it became evident that Keppler might be able to provide 15 or 20 minutes of energy off the bench.
"What she brings is she brings speed, strength and obviously she can strike a ball," Izzo-Brown said. "Obviously, her qualities were something that I thought would just mix it up and something that we don't have up top and that could really help us.
"And obviously, for Keppler to finish that was brilliant. And she has it in her. She might claim that she only plays defense, but we've seen her, in training, dribble through our whole team and finish. It wasn't anything shocking to me."
Keppler's ongoing battle with the balky hamstring -- she played six minutes against South Florida at the end of September, two weeks after the initial injury, only to suffer another setback -- had been an apt metaphor for a team's season of frustration. West Virginia had wins against Penn State, Tennessee, Marquette and St. John's but still found itself too close to the NCAA tournament bubble for comfort entering the conference tournament.
Sunday's win ought to secure at least an at-large bid. And perhaps Keppler's perseverance was again a metaphor.
• A quick return to Portland: It's a legacy of former Pilots coach Clive Charles that the Pilots play attractive, technical soccer, something that lives on through current coach Garrett Smith. But the speed with which they do it this season -- particularly down the flanks -- is striking to watch. And it's something Smith said compares favorably to even the 2005 undefeated national championship team.
"I think our overall team speed may be a little bit better," Smith said last week. "When you start looking from Michelle Enyeart, just raw, athletic speed that can get by anybody at any time and create a bunch [of opportunities], to Kendra Chandhoke out wide right to Kendall Johnson wide left -- and the two players sitting in behind those two [Elli Reed and Jessica Tsao] aren't slow, either."
It also says all you need to know about the personal responsibility inherent in the program's philosophy that Enyeart and Sophie Schmidt came to Smith early in the season with the suggestion they switch positions -- Enyeart to forward and Schmidt to attacking midfielder -- and that Smith trusted two of his co-captains enough to do it.
Ohio State 6, Wisconsin 5 (11 innings)
The Buckeyes rolled to a 10-0 run-rule win in the opener of Saturday's doubleheader on the road, but they trailed 5-1 in the top of the seventh of the nightcap. Then Courtney Pruner's two-run home run cut the deficit to 5-3, and after hits from Rebecca Schultz and Leah Ledford, a two-out wild pitch eventually brought home the tying run.
Aside from good drama, the win, which came via another RBI from Schultz, set the running order as the Big Ten makes the turn for home. The Buckeyes aren't free and clear on the rail, beginning a tough closing stretch with a doubleheader at home against Purdue on Wednesday before trips to Northwestern and Michigan, but they control their own fate. Sweep Purdue and Penn State at home and split with the preseason favorites on the road, and the worst that could happen would be a tie atop the standings at 17-3.
Washington 7, Oregon State 1
Despite going 3-for-3 on the road against Oregon and Oregon State, the most important win of the weekend from Washington's perspective probably came just up the road from Corvallis and Eugene in Portland. But we'll get to that in a minute.
This result mattered because it capped off a winless weekend for the Beavers and dropped them to 22-22 overall with 11 games to play. Given the relatively soft state of the NCAA tournament bubble this season, Oregon State probably can count on an at-large bid if it comes up with a 28-27 record. But even if it gets two wins at UC Davis in Thursday's doubleheader -- no given -- that still would necessitate getting four more wins against the top six teams in the Pac-10. A task that got tougher with this weekend's lost homestand.
Portland State 4, Sacramento State 2
The third win of the weekend at home against Sacramento State, combined with Loyola Marymount's rough weekend against San Diego, put Portland State a game in front of the Lions in the Pacific Coast Softball Conference race. That's great news in Portland (perhaps not good enough to erase the sting of Yao Ming against the Trail Blazers), but it's also good news for folks a few hours north on Interstate 5.
If Portland State makes the NCAA tournament, it puts a non-Pac-10 team in the field that's within driving range of the University of Washington. And assuming the Huskies submit a bid to host regionals, that makes it far more likely they could advance to Oklahoma City without leaving Seattle to do it.
Hawaii 6, San Jose State 5
After dropping the opener of a three-game series at San Jose State, the visiting Rainbow Wahine held on for a one-run win in the second game and clinched the series with an 11-4 win in the finale. The weekend leaves Hawaii tied with Fresno State for second in the WAC, half a game behind league leader Nevada, and able to close out the conference regular season with six games at home. At 22-21 and with a chance to earn the top seed in the conference tournament, it's a big climb for a team that opened the season 3-11.
Watching Bob Coolen's team beat Ohio State and push Alabama to the wire at the Cathedral City Classic, it was easy to come away impressed in spite of the rough early record. Even now, there are a handful of numbers that jump out -- mostly Amanda Tauali'i's .770 slugging percentage and freshman Stephanie Ricketts' 1.99 ERA -- but this remains a team whose accomplishments are more than the sum of its numbers.
Hofstra 6, Georgia State 1
Sunday's win gave the Pride the best-of-three series against Georgia State and sole possession of first place in the Colonial Athletic Association. With just two three-game series remaining for each of the league's teams, that puts the Pride in position to potentially host the conference tournament as the No. 1 seed (they travel to Drexel next weekend and host Delaware to close the regular season).
That's a big deal for a team that has owned this conference over the years but has been pushed by new arrival Georgia State in recent years. Hofstra is 91-9 in its past 100 home games against conference teams. There's also some relevance in the present to accompany that historical dominance; senior ace Kayleigh Lotti is 38-1 in her past 39 starts against Colonial opponents. The one loss? Georgia State last year, of course.
File the Panthers and Pride rivalry under "to be continued." But if it turns out that it's continued on Long Island instead of in Georgia, it's advantage Hofstra.
You know you had a good weekend when you threw seven innings of four-hit ball, striking out nine without allowing a walk or an earned run, and it's not the eye-catching part of your series line. Alabama's Charlotte Morgan put up that effort Saturday against Arkansas, earning win No. 11 in the circle (she got No. 12 Sunday in relief), but it was what she did to pitchers that might earn her national player of the week accolades. Morgan hit a pair of home runs in three games against the Razorbacks and finished the series 7-for-9 with seven RBIs.
The only catch, no pun intended, is Morgan might get a challenge from teammate Ashley Holcombe on a weekend in which Alabama's bats came alive. Always worth the price of admission for her defense behind the plate, Holcombe added eight RBIs on six hits.