Jamie Neushul scored three goals, including one in the final four minutes that all but clinched Stanford's 7-4 victory over host UCLA in the semifinal of the NCAA tournament Saturday.
Julia Hermann made eight saves, twice stopping Bruins' power plays in the fourth period to help the Cardinal (23-5) reach its seventh consecutive championship match. The two-time defending champs face top-ranked and undefeated USC on Sunday night at 5:30 p.m. A full replay of the match can be found on the NCAA website.
Two weeks after limiting UCLA (25-5) to a season-low three goals in the semifinals of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament, Stanford's defense proved up for another challenge. The Bruins unleashed 28 shots, with four finding the back of the cage. Hermann stopped eight and the Cardinal blocked another four before they reached the all-MPSF goalkeeper.
Stanford's gritty effort was paced on the offensive end by its junior All-American. Neushul was successful on three of her four shots to tally her team-leading 11th hat trick of the season.
With the score knotted 1-1 after one, Neushul notched her first when she swam to five meters and unleased a cross-cage shot that beat Alex Musselman to the far post early in the second quarter. She again went far post on a power play with 6:07 on the clock in the third quarter to extend Stanford's lead, 5-3, and rounded out her evening with a lob at 3:47 in the fourth for Stanford's seventh and final score.
"I think it is finding your opportunities, capitalizing on them and realizing when it is a good time to take a shot and when it is not," Neushul said. "It is unbelievable how much movement was happening from my teammates. It's really easy to be in that position when everyone else is putting you in it and knowing that everyone has your back."
The teams each scored once in the opening eight minutes, with Dani Jackovich getting on the board for the Cardinal. Jackovich sprinted ahead and muscled it in with a defender draped all over her back less than a minute into the action.
After trading the game's first four scores, Stanford rallied for two straight to close the first half. With 2:28 on the clock. a contra foul on the perimeter early in a Bruin possession turned it back over to the Cardinal. Gurpreet Sohi retrieved the ball in front of UCLA's cage, flipped it Shannon Cleary who fed it right back to Sohi for the goal. Kat Klass scored in the 6-on-5 with 31 seconds intermission to put Stanford up 4-2 at the half.
UCLA scored twice in the third, but the Bruins came up empty in the fourth while Stanford pulled away with a pair of goals. Hermann came up with save after save, and set the tone for the fourth-quarter shutout when she stoned Ashley Zwirner from point-blank range. The Cardinal capitalized and Madison Berggren lobbed it in to the far post from two meters with 5:28 to go.
Following Neushul's third to give Stanford its largest lead, 7-4, Cleary blocked an attempt by Charlotte Pratt and at 1:33, UCLA's ninth man-up opportunity was for naught as Hermann shut down Zwirner at the near post.
"It's unbelievable knowing that you have such a wall behind you and someone that has a huge heart," Neushul said of Hermann. "If they score a goal, it is not going to faze her. Having that stability from your goalie, your last line of defense, echoes throughout the team."
The Trojans (25-0) have taken all three meetings with the Cardinal this year, 7-6 at the UC Irvine Invitational in February, 8-3 in MPSF play in April and 8-5 in the MPSF Tournament final on May 1.