SAN DIEGO — Cal Lutheran was eliminated Wednesday from the NCAA Division III women's soccer playoffs by UC San Diego for the third consecutive season.
And this year's loss was easily the most disheartening.
For nearly 89 minutes, Cal Lutheran played UCSD, the No. 1-ranked team in the West Region, on even terms. But with 1 minute 18 seconds remaining in regulation play, the Regals' defense lapsed for a moment and Triton forward Carin Pugh scored for a 1-0 victory.
San Diego (15-0-1) moves on to meet Gustavus Adolphus in a West Regional semifinal game Saturday in St. Peter, Minn.
"We really thought this was going to be the year we beat them," Cal Lutheran Coach Dan Kuntz said. "Being as the winning goal came so late, it's still hard to believe that we lost."
The winning goal was set up by a long run down the right sideline to the ball and then a brilliant crossing pass to the front of the net by San Diego's Amanda Johnson.
Pugh simply redirected the ball over the outstretched hand of goalkeeper Amy Walz into the top of the goal. On the faces of Cal Lutheran's players were looks of disbelief.
"When somebody scores with that little time left, you just don't have a chance to recover," Cal Lutheran defender Lea Stankevich said.
To their credit, the Regals (14-5) did mount one final challenge, but forward Joey Allard's shot from 20 yards out was caught by San Diego goalkeeper Cari Schwartz, who recorded her 11th shutout of the season.
"It's hard to let this one go," Kuntz said. "We felt we matched up well with UCSD, and we played that way. But they get one like that, and all of a sudden the season's over."
Also over is the brilliant career of Cal Lutheran senior forward Rachel Wackerman, who finishes as the No. 3 scorer in women's collegiate soccer history with 106.
Wackerman nearly made it 107 in the game's 29th minute when a loose ball bounced toward her a few yards from the UCSD goal. But before she could kick the ball into the open net, San Diego defender Heather Sears kicked the ball out of harm's way.
"It all happened so fast," Wackerman said. "One second, there was nobody there, and I had an open shot. The next second, she came out of nowhere and kicked the ball away from me."
Wackerman would not get close again, finishing without an official shot on goal. In all, Cal Lutheran had four shots, the Tritons eight.
"Our defense did a great job of shutting (Wackerman) down," San Diego Coach Brian McManus said. "Obviously, we felt that would be a key."
Bent on revenge for a 2-0 playoff loss in 1991 and a 3-2 setback in last year's West Regional final, Cal Lutheran thought a key would be to play physically. Numerous times during the first half, the Regals dealt out an extra shove or two after the whistle blew.
The idea was to let San Diego know that a third consecutive playoff victory over the Regals would not come easily.
On one occasion, Cal Lutheran's Amy Ward put Pugh in a headlock as the two battled for the ball.
Unfortunately for the Regals, nobody was able to tie up Pugh in the final moments.