Sunday, September 20, 2015

Gonzaga gives nationally-ranked Washington a fight, settles for draw

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They were not supposed to be serious threat to the 7-1-0 Huskies, but Gonzaga (1-4-3) put forth one of its best performances of the year Sunday afternoon at Luger Field and came away with a 2-2 draw in a game in which they surprisingly led by two goals early in the second half. Aliyah Miller and Karley Baggerly played big roles in putting the Zags up two in a three-minute span, but the 25th-ranked visitors rallied with two from Kimberly Keever in the span of less than a minute to tie things up.

The match was a thrilling affair right from the start with the Huskies supplying a lot of offensive pressure in the opening minutes, shouting for a handball in the box and forcing goalkeeper Christie Tombari (Spokane, WA) to come out and deny a great chance in the opening five minutes of the game.

One player creating a lot of the attack for the visiting Huskies was local product Kelcie Hedge (Post Falls, ID). In the eighth minute she made a great 70-yard run up the left side after a Gonzaga corner only to see the play thwarted off the left edge of the area as she tried to find space to deliver a cross. A minute later she possessed the ball deep on the left side and dished it back toward the top of the area to Shannon Simon, whose shot from about 17 yards was tipped wide by Tombari. The flurry of chances continued in the 10th when a corner found the head of Hedge, but she nodded it inches wide of the post.

"They've got some great attacking personality so we knew that it was going to take a joint effort defensively," Gonzaga Head Coach Amy Edwards said of the scoreless first half. "And that was the whole plan. We gotta work on the defensive side of the ball, and we thought we might get some chances just in transition. We knew we would get some chances out of that, but - number one - we had to stay together defensively because they have some incredible attacking personalities."

After withstanding the early barrage, the Bulldogs fought back and in the 20th minute got the first good look when Savannah Van Citters, clearing a ball out of pressure in left midfield, knocked the ball forward to Karley Baggerly, who drove into the box from the left and shot from about 12 yards near post to force a save from Megan Kufeld.

Three minutes later she got another look when a throw-in on the left side at midfield made its way to Baggerly, and her well-paced shot from about eight yards tested the keeper's hands.

In the 27th minute the Huskies nearly broke through with back-to-back chances. A ball crossed in from the left by Kimberly Keever found Hedge, who was denied by Tombari. Less than a minute later a shot by Amanda Perez from about 15 yards also forced a save from Tombari at the near post.

As the intermission approached Gonzaga had a great chance on a free kick when Kristin Hayman free kick from well out on the right side slipped through the outstretched keeper's hands, but nobody was on the far side of the six for the putaway as it rolled out of play.

"There was a little different mentality for our team out there. And that's what I have been searching for, for the eight games. It looked a little more like a team, especially on the defensive side of the ball and that was a little bit of our focus. Had to be against these guys."

The Bulldogs came out in the second half and with just six minutes gone, had the nationally-ranked Huskies down two - their first deficit since their opening weekend in Kentucky where they fell 1-0 to Kentucky in the opener and rallied to defeat Louisville 2-1 in the second match.

Four minutes into the period Heather Johnson (Kennewick, WA), back from injury in limited action, lofted a ball over the defense from midfield that Baggerly ran onto up the right side before beating a defender as she went into the box. As Baggerly drove inside the six looking for an opening to shoot, the ball was poked away by a defender, rolling toward the front left edge of the six where Aliyah Miller came forward and banged it home for the opening tally.

"You see Heather in the game for 10 minutes and even in that 10 minutes, it changes things. She provides that opportunity to possibly score for us, and just her leadership. So, we'll slowly get her in a few more minutes - I am optimistic now."

The Huskies nearly got an immediate answer in the 50th minute when Simon took the ball into the back left corner of the six, creating issues for the defense. Tombari would make a save on the play and it would eventually be cleared away.

A minute later, and less than three since the first score, Miller turned provider and sent the ball to Baggerly, who cut up through the box from the left corner of the penalty arc with two defenders off her right shoulder, shooting from about 13 yards out past the keeper and into the far right side netting to make the Zags the first team this season to score twice against Washington.

From there, the Bulldogs battled to limit the Huskies' attempts to rally.

In the 62nd a cross from the left look like it was going to finally put the visitors on the board when Hedge came flying in from the right and struck a volley mid-air that went wide of the left post.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Keever had a miraculous 40 seconds. A free kick from Havana McElvaine from the left wing found Keever inside the six for a first-time finish from close range. Moments later defender Dominique Bond-Flasza rove up the right side and delivered a cross to Perez, who nodded it back to Keever in the center of the area for the equalizer.

"It's tough to hold a group like that. They can score goals, and that's basically what I told Lesle Gallimore before the game. 'I've really enjoyed watching your team play. You have scored a lot of great goals.' So, we knew this was probably not going to be a 0-0 game. They're gonna score some goals and we just needed to make sure we also got on the scoreboard as well and tried to hold them as best as we could."

Washington nearly grabbed the win in the final 15 minutes and overtime. In the 78th minute the post came to the rescue for Gonzaga when a ball from the left corner was cleared out to the right side but sent back into the box by the Huskies. Perez stepped to it and ripped a shot off the right post.

A minute later Perez came close again with a shot from the left side that curled just wide of the far upper right corner, though the referees ruled it had been touched by Tombari.

Washington continued to be a threat through overtime, but Gonzaga nearly snared a victory with three minutes remaining in the contest when McKenna Ferrera fired a shot from about 25 yards out that flew just wide of the left post.

"Longest time in my life here," Edwards said of the 40 minutes after Washington pulled even. "The other thing was Christie was solid. She didn't give up anything routine and made a couple great saves. Giving up three goals against Washington State, but finding a way to come back and do what she could to help us stay in this game was big.

"It didn't take an individual; it took a whole group today. Again, that's what we've been trying to work on - our togetherness, and supporting each other. I think in the past we've looked a little bit individualistic and when they play together, find a way to do it, they can be hard to beat. And that's all we asked today - be a hard team to beat. Doing the little things, taking care of the little things and then supporting each other. We didn't care what the result was. We wanted to do that, and then they find a way to get a result. Hopefully we gained confidence - that's the biggest thing we needed. We are not just a one-win team. Our record is deceiving and part of it is our fault, but we wanted to get a little more confidence out of today and just perform well. So to get a result, 2-2, against a team like that, we are pretty happy to keep taking some steps forward."

The result marked just the second positive result for Gonzaga against Washington. The Huskies came in with a dominant 11-1-0 record and five consecutive wins in the series.

"The thing I am most proud of is they're willing to grind and work together as a team. Their performance today is what I have been waiting to see all season long. So, I am proud of them, but its unfortunate that it's coming in the ninth game into the season. I am optimistic now for us to kinda go into conference with that kind of performance."

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