To Baylor sophomore Raegan Padgett, Friday night’s first-round NCAA tournament game seemed like just another home date at Betty Lou Mays Field.
But when she punched through the winning goal, Padgett made sure the Bears didn’t end their season at home.
Padgett’s goal through a scrum of players with less than 17 minutes remaining gave the Bears a 3-2 win over Rice as they continued to play inspired soccer.
“It was kind of a blur,” said Padgett, who scored her third goal of the season. “I remember that someone served it up in the air and it came down. It was kind of being kicked around and I just got my foot on it. We’re always taught to keep going for the ball. I was just fighting until I got it in.”
After sweeping three games to win the Big 12 tournament last week in Kansas City, Baylor (14-5-2) played with the same tenacity in their first NCAA tournament game since 2012.
Baylor will advance to the second round next weekend in College Station against the winner of Saturday’s game between No. 3 regional seed USC and Eastern Washington. No. 2 seed Texas A&M, which beat Lamar in the first round, is hosting the second and third rounds of the NCAA tournament.
Baylor coach Paul Jobson was proud of how his players kept answering each time Rice (12-4-2) scored a goal. The match was nothing like the Aug. 24 game in Houston when Baylor and Rice played to a scoreless double overtime tie.
“I wasn’t expecting a 3-2 game at all, but I’m proud of the girls after going down 1-0 early and just never losing their mentality,” Jobson said. “Their heads never went down. They fought through and did what they needed to do to get the win tonight.”
The Owls scored first when Aliza Wolfe rammed through a cross shot that slipped past Baylor goalkeeper Jen Wandt. But Baylor quickly fought back and scored two goals within a minute of each other.
Lauren Piercy and Julie James set up Precious Akanyirige for a short goal, and then Aline De Lima drilled a long shot to give Baylor a 2-1 lead 25 minutes into the game. Akanyirige scored her third goal of the season while De Lima scored her team-leading seventh.
“It was awesome to get those next couple of goals,” said Akanyirige. “We always pride ourselves on outfighting teams. No one likes to get scored on but we had the whole rest of the game. We were trying to keep our heads up and keep going at it and not give up.”
The Owls tied it at 2-2 when Erin Mikeska drilled a 15-yard shot 10 minutes into the second half. But after Padgett’s goal gave Baylor the lead, the Owls couldn’t score again as the Bears repeatedly delivered strong defensive stands.
Baylor outshot Rice, 28-12, but the Owls were aggressive all night.
“They’re a dynamic offensive team,” Jobson said. “They’re dangerous, we knew that coming in. We didn’t adjust what we were doing, but we had to pinch a little bit more to kind of battle the numbers they were sending forward. I thought we did it really, really well.”
Wandt finished with two saves for Baylor while Maya Hoyer picked up three saves for Rice. The Bears are excited to keep their season alive and have another shot to play next weekend.
“Their head is where it needs to be and they’re not overexcited,” Jobson said. “They know we’re not done, they just want to keep playing as long as they can. We’re excited about who the next opponent is going to be.”