Stanford's 2-0 women's soccer victory over Oregon State on Friday night was anything but easy. After all, the Beavers brought an undefeated Pac-10 mark into the fray against the nation's top-ranked team and they weren't going down without a fight. It was a showdown and played out like it.
Christen Press scored twice in front of a home crowd of 1,399 to give the Cardinal the win over 13th-ranked Oregon State, clinching at least a co-championship with one match remaining.
Press scored in the third minute and the 71st, but in between, the physical and fast-paced play of the Beavers at times threw the Cardinal off its game.
Stanford (8-0, 17-0-2) responded well enough to extend a few streaks: four consecutive shutouts, 16 consecutive victories, 19 straight wins in Pac-10 play, and 30 straight at home.
"I don't think we even knew they were going to be as good as they were," said Press, who scored her national-leading 22nd and 23rd goals of the season. "They were physical, they were fast, and they had good positioning. That was a great defense."
Oregon State (7-1, 15-2-1) entered the match with six consecutive shutouts and had allowed only seven goals all season. Press found herself double- and triple-teamed. They tried to push her off the ball and prevent her from turning.
It often worked, but Press still snuck in for a crucial early goal, taking a cross from outside back Rachel Quon and getting a strong right foot on a cross-goal shot that beat Oregon State goalkeeper Colleen Boyd to the far post.
Afterward, Oregon State applied high pressure on the Stanford defense, preventing it from establishing possession.
"They're a fast-paced team," Stanford midfielder Teresa Noyola said. "Other teams have just sat back and let us determine the tempo and get control of the game. They did not. They went after us."
Stanford's freshman goalkeeper Emily Oliver preserved the lead with a spectacular save while diving to her right for a two-handed deflection of Courtney Wetzel's free kick early in the second half.
"I saw it a little late, so it was kind of an instinct thing," Oliver said. "I just let my body do what it's trained for."
Oliver made five saves during a match that often seemed dangerous for Stanford. But, in the end, Press' second goal deflated the visitors. She took a pass from Mariah Nogueira, just to the left of the top of the box, and stuck a shot inside the right post.
"In the first half, I realized that I couldn't cleanly run by their defenders because they were so strong," Press said. "They were fighting me off as I was trying to get through. So, on the second goal, I knew I would only have a half-step on them, so I shot it early, because I realized that I was never going to get all the way by them."
Stanford was aided by weary central defender Alina Garciamendez, who played for Mexico in a 3-0 loss to Canada on Tuesday in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying in Cancun, Mexico. She learned mid-game that Mexico upset the U.S. in the semifinals, also Friday night, and clinched a World Cup berth.
Courtney Verloo, also in central defense, seemed to save the Cardinal on potentially-scary situations, with her strong and steady play, and decision-making.
"They were just coming straight at us," Oliver said. "But I thought our back line did an awesome job of closing them down both when they were coming on the outside and coming through the middle, and by being strong on tackles."
Oregon State, which has never finished higher than third and went a miserable 2-22-3 in Pac-10 play from 2006-08, but now is assured of second place.
The closeness -- the teams tied in shots, 13-13 -- and competitiveness of it, provided Stanford with some things to build on heading into its final regular-season match, at home against Oregon on Sunday at 1 p.m., also Senior Day to honor outgoing seniors Press, Kira Maker, Allison McCann, and Morgan Redman.
Stanford, by the way, can win the conference outright with a victory. Stanford has now won seven Pac-10 titles.
"It was a little bit of a wakeup call," Noyola said. "These are the kinds of caliber games we're going to face from now on. Even though we struggled in the first half, I think it was good. It shows what we need to improve going into the playoffs."
Stanford will learn its postseason fate during the NCAA Tournament selection show on Monday at 1:30 p.m. on ESPNU. The Cardinal is expected to play host through the first four rounds, as long as the team wins.
"It was a little frustrating," Press said of Friday's match. "But, you know what? It's the gritty wins that are the best ones. And that's what tonight was: a gritty win."