Just before the buzzer sounded, Stanford senior Areta Buness fired the potential game-tying shot on goal.
Denver goalkeeper Carson Gregg got a piece of it, but the ball trickled behind her and inched toward the goal line. For a moment, it seemed Stanford had tied the game after a wild second-half comeback where the Cardinal had trailed 7-1 at the break and faced a three-goal deficit in the final 90 seconds.
Stephen Moye/Stanford Athletics
Stanford trailed 8-5 with under 90 seconds to play, but junior captain Mikaela Watson scored her second goal of the game with 1:29 to play, and junior Ali Baiocco scored a minute later.
Buness won the ensuing draw control and the Cardinal moved quickly to get her a close-up opportunity to tie the game.
Denver built a six-goal lead in the first half, but in the second half, Stanford outscored the visitors 6-1 and held a distinctive advantage in shots, 17-8, and draw controls 6-2.
Junior Daniella McMahon scored twice in the second half, including a tally that made it 7-5 with 5:16 to go.
In her first career start, sophomore Trudie Grattan made five saves as the Pioneers scored their only goal of the second half with 2:25 remaining in the game.
McMahon and senior captain Julia Massaro led the team with five ground balls a piece, while junior Kyra Pelton finished with a team-high three caused turnovers and senior Genesis Lucero tallied a team-best three draw controls.
For the game, the Pioneers out-shot the Cardinal, 25-20, and finished with a 27-24 edge in ground balls. Stanford won 10 of 17 draw controls and caused 12 of Denver's 23 turnovers.
Stanford also lost its opener to Denver last season, but rebounded to finish with the second-most wins in school history, a Pac-12 tournament championship and another NCAA tournament appearance.
Stanford has a near two-week break before its second game of the season. The Cardinal will host Fresno State (Thursday, Feb. 21) and UC Davis (Sunday, Feb. 24).
No. 25 Stanford dropped seven of 10 bouts in a 22-9 loss at No. 20 Purdue, Friday, at Holloway Gymnasium. The Cardinal fall to 7-2 on the season, while the Boilermakers move to 6-7.
Redshirt sophomore Requir van der Merwe got the Cardinal on the board with a 6-1 decision over Parker Filius at 149 pounds. There was no score after the first and van der Merwe rode out Filius in the second. He scored an escape to start the third and finished with a pair of takedowns and riding time in the win. Ranked 15th nationally, van der Merwe is now 19-6 overall and 8-1 in duals this season.
Sophomore Dominick Mandarino evened things up at 6-6 with a 3-1 sudden victory decision over Cole Wysocki at 165 pounds. Mandarino scored a takedown with 37 seconds left in the sudden victory period to improve to 20-7 overall and picked up his fourth win at 165 pounds this season.
Purdue won the next four bouts, including a 4-3 decision by No. 12 Christian Brunner over ninth-ranked Nathan Traxler as 197 pounds. Traxler led 2-1 after the first period. Brunner tied it up with an escape in the second. Traxler regained the lead with an escape to open the third period, but Brunner scored the winning takedown and rode out the period. It was just the fifth loss of the season for Traxler (22-5), who hadn't lost since Jan. 2.
Junior Gabriel Townsell capped off the scoring for the Cardinal, pulling out a 5-3 sudden victory decision over No. 19 Devin Schroder at 125 pounds. Townsell registered the winning takedown just 18 seconds into the extra frame. He is now 16-6 overall and 6-1 in duals this season.
The dual ended at 133 pounds, where redshirt senior Mason Pengilly nearly pulled off an upset over No. 14 Ben Thornton. Pengilly tallied two takedowns in the first period and led 4-3 going into the second.
After going down, Pengilly was awarded a point on bottom as Thornton was called for grabbing fingers. Thornton earned an escape to begin the third period, cutting the Pengilly's lead to 5-4. Thornton recorded a takedown with less than 10 seconds remaining and finished with riding time for the 7-5 decision.
Stanford is back in action Saturday night at Indiana.
No. 9 Stanford dropped its fourth straight match, falling at No. 5 Pepperdine, 25-21, 25-22, 25-21, Friday, at Firestone Fieldhouse.
The Cardinal (7-5, 0-2 MPSF) was held to a .284 attack percentage and struggled with Pepperdineâ€™s serve. The Waves (8-2, 2-0 MPSF) hit .370 as a team and tallied eight aces. Both teams notched 22 digs and 5.0 blocks.
Stanford utilized its third different starting lineup of the season. Sophomore Jaylen Jasper moved to the left pin and junior Eli Wopat started at opposite. Junior Eric Beatty missed his sixth straight match due to injury.
Senior outside hitter Jordan Ewert led the Cardinal with 11 kills on .296 hitting and four digs. Jasper added eight kills, but hit just .190 and had three blocks and two digs. Wopat had four kills and both of Stanfordâ€™s service aces.
Setter Paul Bischoff controlled the offense with 29 assists, while redshirt senior libero Kyle Dagostino anchored the defense with a team-high seven digs.
Junior middle blocker Stephen Moye hit .833 with five kills on six errorless swings to go with five blocks. Sophomore middle blocker Kyler Presho had six kills on a .625 attack percentage.
Sophomore Leo Henken, who had started the previous five matches at outside hitter, appeared in two sets, but managed just one kill, one digs and a block.
Stanford returns to The Farm next week to play host to No. 14 USC on Thursday in Maples Pavilion and Concordia.