WACO, Texas - The upset-minded Rice Soccer team battled No. 23 ranked Baylor on the road in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament Friday evening in Waco, but the Bears claimed a 3-2 win to advance into next week's field of 32.
Baylor was physical, and quickly applied the offensive pressure with the game's first four shots and a pair of corner kicks in the first 10 minutes. Rice refused to yield, however, and was the first to open the scoring.
In the 17th minute junior Marissa Topolski brought the ball down the left side and lined a hard cross in front of the Bears' goal. Senior Aliza Wolfe broke free from some defenders and punched a shot past the keeper to the right side. Wolfe's second goal of the season gave the Owls a 1-0 lead and marked the first time for a Rice player to record a goal in the NCAA Tournament.
The emotions were sky-high, but Baylor would not go away so quietly at home. The Bears responded with a pair of scores in rapid succession in the 25th and 26th minutes to take a 2-1 lead into the intermission.
It was a similar theme in the second stanza. Rice fended-off both pressure and contact before breaking through for a crowd-silencing score. In the 56th minute, senior Nia Stallings had the ball on the right side as well as the full attention of Baylor's defense. Stallings bounced a pass along the 18-yard line that Erin Mikeska settled, turned, and fired toward the Bear goal. The grounder hit low on the left post and deflected in for her third goal of the season.
It was a new, 2-2, game with just under 34 minutes to play in the contest. Rice continued to work to put together some more decent looks for shots. Stallings had a leaping liner in front of the goal in the 72nd minute and Samantha Chaiken's header after a corner kick in the 78th was just high. Like the team's previous game in the Conference USA Tournament in Florida, however, the Blue & Gray could not convert some solid attempts into scores.
Credit Baylor keeper Jennifer Wandt with five saves, and Bear forward Raegan Padgett with scoring what proved to be the game-winning goal in the 74th minute of a 3-2 final.
Owl sophomore goalkeeper Maya Hoyer finished the night with three saves. Rice junior forward Marissa Topolski tallied a team-high five shots, the most-ever by an Owl in an NCAA Tournament game. It was not the final outcome Rice head coach Nicky Adams was looking for, but she had nothing but praise for the team's effort at the program's fourth appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
"I'm proud of how hard we played all game, particularly coming back to tie it in the second half," Adams said. "Baylor's obviously a very good team. It was a very good soccer game tonight, and almost a great game for our girls."
Rice ends its season with a 12-4-2 record. Baylor, now 14-5-2, advances in the NCAA bracket to meet the winner of the USC-Eastern Washington game to be played on Saturday. The match box score is available at the above links.