Sunday's Championship Final is scheduled for a live television broadcast by FOX Sports Net at 1 pm (Central Time). The Owls will face C-USA regular season champion and No. 1 seed North Texas, a 1-0 winner over Middle Tennessee late Friday night.
Rice's trip to the title game is the program's first since winning the C-USA Tournament in 2005. That is the same year that the Owls last-reached the 13-win plateau. The Blue & Gray enter the Championship Final on a season-best six-game win streak, the program's most consecutive victories since rattling-off seven in a row in 2003.
The Owls began the match with a heavy offensive push and some early golden chances to score that resembled the first meeting between the same teams to start the C-USA regular season more than a month ago. In that meeting against the Techsters Rice coasted to a 6-0 runaway win.
Friday's rematch saw the Blue & Gray missing two almost wide-open shots on goal in the first five minutes. The team had more than a few good looks on shots before Hughes hit the left post while trying to score from a tricky angle in traffic in the 36th minute. By the halftime buzzer the Owls were up 12-2 shots but had nothing to show for it on the scoreboard.
Shots for both teams proved to be a little more scarce second half. With the score still deadlocked at 0-0 and less than 12 minutes left in regulation, that first meeting's 6-0 score was now a distant and long-forgotten event. In this rematch one goal was going to be all either team would need.
Finally, in the 79th minute, Owl sophomore Jenny Fichera launched serve to Hughes in coverage in front of the Tech goal. The recent C-USA Offensive Player of the Year honoree blasted away on her fourth shot of the game. Tech goalkeeper Kylee Selo, as she had done so brilliantly six other times in the game made the save. Her seventh save was a diving block to keep Rice off the board, only this time it deflected away.
Hughes alertly sprinted to the unclaimed ball still inside the keeper's box. To make sure there would not be a miss on this open look at the goal, the Ottawa, Ontario, native personally trotted the ball (and herself) to the back of the net for the 1-0 Rice lead.
"What else can you say about her (Hughes) by now," Rice head coach Nicky Adams asked a sports reporter after the match. "She's a winner. She's dynamic. She's a force. She's focused, and she's a goal-scorer.
"I am really very pleased at how the whole team played," coach Adams said. "We had some chances to score, but LA Tech had something to do with not allowing that to happen. They are a good team who has been playing very well, and they had another good game tonight.
"When we didn't score, the thing we needed to be was patient," she explained. "We needed to keep playing the way we always play and have confidence in each other. I thought Quinny Truong was fantastic and a leader in the midfield. Our backline had a much better game tonight and that was a key as well."
Better play from the backline helped Rice finish the contest with a convincing 19-3 advantage shots. Owl senior goalkeeper Amy Czyz officially finished with one save on the way to the team's tenth shutout of the season. Her ninth solo shutout was the 27th of her collegiate career and her school-record 41st victory as the Rice keeper.
It wasn't the only Rice record to take a hit. Hughes' C-USA leading 14th goal of the season tied the school mark for goals, and broke the Rice record for points (now set at 37), in a single season which were both originally set by Caitlin Robbins.
The Owls have reached the Championship Final of its conference tournament three times since starting the soccer program in 2001. Rice was the runner-up in the 2003 and 2004 Western Athletic Conference Tournaments before winning the C-USA Championship in 2005.