IRVINE — The end was more than 110 minutes of play and more than 2 1/2 hours in the making, but the devastation was instant for the UC Irvine women's soccer team in a Big West Tournament semifinal Thursday night at UCI.
Top-seeded Cal State Fullerton converted its first three penalty kicks, while stand-in goalkeeper Katie Pulliam saved the Anteaters' first three tries in the shootout, following a 1-1 deadlock that included a pair of scoreless 10-minute overtimes.
Pulliam, who had allowed 10 goals in seven games this season, came in for starter Lindsey Maricic, who made six saves in regulation, but was deemed less mobile than Pulliam due to a back problem that was less evident in the flow of play. The move was set before the game began, Pulliam said.
Pulliam stopped senior Rachel Wood on the opening attempt, lunging to her right to stone Wood for the second time in as many PK attempts (Wood was denied in the 96th minute of a 0-0 regular-season-ending tie with visiting Hawaii on Sunday).
After Kishi Smith converted for the Titans, Pulliam turned away UCI's Jenna Pellegrino, lunging to her right once again.
Chelsey Patterson knocked in the second PK for Fullerton, before Pulliam dived to her left to stop a low shot from Devon Delarosa.
Stacey Fox drilled the ensuing penalty kick to spark a celebration for the Titans.
The loss eliminates the No. 4-seeded Anteaters (9-8-4) and, barring a surprise, ends their season, as well as a run of two straight trips to the NCAA Tournament. The game is recorded as a tie, with the penalty kicks deciding which squad advances.
It was the third season the Anteaters have fallen in the conference tournament. But the past two years, they were granted at-large berths into the NCAA Tournament after impressive regular-season results that included back-to-back conference crowns.
So, despite having lost only two regular-season matches the last three seasons, UCI, with a Ratings Percentage Index of 59, figures to be sitting out this season's NCAA Tournament.
Fullerton, which claimed its first conference regular-season title since 2007, will face Cal State Northridge in Sunday's 1 p.m. final at UCI. The Matadors earned the program's first Big West Tournament win with a 1-0 triumph over Cal Poly San Luis Obispo at UCI earlier Thursday.
The Titans (10-8-1), who are 7-1-1 since opening the season with a 3-7 mark, opened the scoring in the third minute Thursday. Patterson, a sophomore midfielder, rocketed a shot into the upper right corner from the top of the 18-yard box to gain the upper hand. It was the first goal – and point – of the season for Patterson, who became the 11th Titans player to score this season.
UCI pulled even in the 32nd minute when Laura McGrail converted a cross from Natalia Ledezma. Pellegrino, who started the play with a lead pass, was also credited with an assist.
It was the second straight postseason loss in penalty kicks for the Anteaters, who were bested by San Diego, 5-3, in the shootout after their first-round NCAA Tournament game was deadlocked, 2-2, at the end of overtime.
UCI posted a 12-9 edge in shots and forced Maricic to make two point-blank saves. UCI's Mar Rodriguez also banged a shot off the center of the crossbar early in the second half.