|The Zags wrap up their home season with Senior Day at noon Sunday | Photos: Gerald Barnhart - GALLERY|
Trailing since the 18th minute, the Zags looked much better in the second half and had the better of play much of the period as they looked for the equalizer. They thought they had it in the 82nd minute when Clark Phillips collected the ball and drove into the area just left of the arc, turning and beating two defenders before crossing over the line, where he was taken down on the play by a pair by a third a yard into the box. Lars Ludwigs' subsequent attempt from the spot, however, was stopped by goalkeeper Chase Hauser, who dove hard to his left to make the save toward the lower right corner of the goal.
Gonzaga did not give up and continued to press for the goal and thought they had another penalty opportunity in the final seconds of the contest when Josh Phillips was chasing a free ball deep on the left side of the box and was taken down by the keeper, who flew in to clear it away but came in high and took Phillips out with late contact. Though he was leveled on the play, Phillips got to the ball first only to see the effort was too far in front of Conner Bevans on the opposite side for an empty net finish. The final whistle would sound as he continued to protest vociferously in frustration at the lack of a call.
The Zags had an early chance in the contest to take the lead when Jakub Granlund, returning from injury, drove up the right side on a counter and delivered a ball behind the defense into the center of the area to the on-rushing Conner Bevans, but the sophomore was unable to control the ball on the bounce and the keeper leaped out onto the loose ball at the edge of the six in the third minute.
The Bulldogs had another great chance a minute later on a throw-in about 24 yards up from the corner that Andrew Newman sent in to Clark Phillips just inside the edge of the area, where he one-timed it into the middle of the box. With his back to goal, Bevans flicked the ball over his shoulder toward the upper left corner only to see Hauser knocked it away at the last second.
The Dons took the lead with possession deep in the left side of the offensive end and plenty of time. Mauricio Diaz De Leon launched a cross through the area to an open Liam Kelly on the far side, who calmly collected the ball and with five yards of space set himself up to fire a 10-yard effort off the corner of the six. It looked like keeper Ryan Caballero had it covered, but the ball went through his hands as he dropped to make the stop and redirecting into the far back corner of the goal.
Saint Mary's won the first half of their road swing at Portland Friday night, downing the Pilots 2-1 in overtime to move two points ahead of Gonzaga for third in the conference. Bobby Conner scored both, tallying there minutes into the game and three minutes into overtime.
Stating Their Case - The At-Large Argument for Gonzaga
What do the Bulldogs have on their resume for the selection committee to consider? With a win Sunday, the Zags will have a 10-6-3 record and would be third in the conference. This season the team defeated two opponents that were ranked at the time, winning on the road 2-0 at UC-Santa Barbara (then #16, currently #10, RPI #8) and in Chicago 2-0 against Wisconsin (then #21, currently #13, RPI #29).
On the same weekend as the Santa Barbara win, they downed Cal Poly, who were coming off a huge 3-0 upset several days before at UCLA (then #6 - currently #2, RPI #1), 1-0 in overtime. The trip to Chicago also saw them fall narrowly 1-0 to UIC (currently #23, RPI 35). The Zags surprising season started with a hard-fought meeting with the University of Washington, a tight contest that saw them fall narrowly 1-0 to the Huskies (then #21 - currently #3, RPI #2).
In conference play, the Bulldogs swept league-leading Loyola Marymount with a 2-1 home win and a 1-0 road victory and both losses to second-place Santa Clara were by one goal.
With all of that, the Zags came into the weekend ranked 21 in RPI published by the NCAA, the highest mark among the WCC schools with LMU coming in at 53 and Santa Clara at 48.
The case certainly has plenty of quality in Gonzaga's favor, but a fourth-place finish could make the odds extremely long.