FULLERTON, Calif. – For the second straight contest, senior Katie Pulliam entered the match and stopped three UC Riverside penalty kicks in a shootout to power Cal State Fullerton to the program's fourth Big West Conference Tournament Championship Sunday afternoon at Titan Stadium.
Fullerton (8-6-7) earned the league's automatic berth into the NCAA tournament field, which will be announced on Monday (Nov. 11) at 1:30 p.m. PT on NCAA.com. UC Riverside finished its season at 8-12-2 and suffered its second elimination in a Big West Tournament championship match, which was also to Fullerton in 2005 when the Titans won 4-1 at Titan Stadium.
Sunday's match ended in a 1-1 tie after 90 minutes of regulation and an additional 20 minutes of overtime before the Titans clinched the tournament title and automatic NCAA Tournament berth by way of a penalty kick shootout, 2-1.
Pulliam, named the Big West Tournament Most Valuable Player, saved the first two attempts by UC Riverside, while Erica Mazeau and Janali West buried each of their penalty kicks to give the Titans a 2-0 lead. The Grass Valley, Calif., native then blocked Sammy Arellano's shot to give the Titans a chance to end the game, however, senior Kishi Smith's attempt was stopped by Highlander keeper Elizabeth Silas, and Tyler Cunningham kept UCR's hope alive converting her shot.
Fullerton's fourth shooter, Colleen Ortega, sailed her opportunity over the crossbar as the Titans held a 2-1 advantage after four rounds. Pulliam blocked Andrea Morales' kick to the right post to clinch the tournament championship for the Titans.
Fullerton grabbed an early 1-0 lead in the 14th minute after senior Nikki McCants scored her second goal in as many matches. Freshman Jazzmin Mancilla drilled a cross in front of the goal, and Brianna Chapman redirected it, setting up McCants' header to the upper right corner.
With three minutes left in the match the Highlanders finally found the equalizer after a Mancilla foul in the box allowed Cunningham to place a penalty kick in the upper right corner.
Fullerton pressured Silas and the UC Riverside defense early in the first half, outshooting the Highlanders by a 5-0 count in the first 45 minutes, including Chapman's header attempt in the fifth minute, which was saved by Silas. McCants had another chance in the 80th minute, but Silas made another save to keep the Titan lead to one.
McCants finished with four shots to lead the Titans while Cunningham had two shots on the afternoon to lead the Highlanders. Fullerton held the advantage in shots 11-6 and corner kicks, 5-3.
Fullerton will have to wait to find out its next opponent, as the team will hear its name called during the NCAA Tournament Selection show. The selection show will air live on NCAA.com on Monday, Nov. 11 at 1:30 p.m. PT.
Notes: Cal State Fullerton holds a 6-4-3 overall record at the Big West Tournament. The Titans have been victorious twice in the championship finals (2005, 2006), and also advanced by way of a penalty kick shootout in (2007, 2013) before suffering their first championship loss, 1-0, in overtime to Cal State Northridge a year ago. Claiming four Big West Tournament titles, the Titans advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2013 following those championships. Fullerton also advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 2001 after winning the Big West regular season title…Cal State Fullerton leads the all-time series with UC Riverside by the count of 7-5-3… eight of the last nine meetings have been decided by a single goal with two draws thrown into the mix...Fullerton has a 4-2-2 advantage against UCR at Titan Stadium…the Titans are now 2-0 versus the Highlanders in Big West tournament finals…the last Titan to be named tournament MVP was Kristen Boujous in 2006 when the Titans defeated Cal Poly 2-1 at Titan Stadium.