Toledo took advantage of a hat trick by senior Rachel MacLeod to post a thrilling 3-2 victory over No. 22 Pepperdine on Sunday at Scott Park. The win was the first for the Rockets (2-4-0) over a nationally ranked team.
MacLeod found the back of the net on one occasion in the first half and twice after the intermission to help the Midnight Blue & Gold shock the West Coast Conference member Waves (2-2-1).
With today's effort, MacLeod becomes only the eighth player in school history to register at least three goals in a match and first since Brittany Hensler turned the trick against Kent State on Oct. 18, 2009. The 2011 Mid-American Conference Offensive Player of the Year also moved into sole possession of fourth place in UT annals with 26 career tallies.
PU started fast in today's non-league matchup and had an opportunity to jump on the scoreboard with a little under 32 minutes left in the opening half on a shot by Taylor Alvarado. The Waves forward accepted a nice cross from teammate Lynn Williams in the middle of the Toledo goal box about six yards from the touch line. Alvarado gained possession of the ball in traffic and fired a shot on frame that UT sophomore netminder Sam Tiongson made an impressive diving save on to keep the contest scoreless. Tiongson finished today's match with a career-high eight saves.
A little over 10 minutes later, Toledo was presented with its first scoring chance on a blast off the foot of junior tri-captain Meghan Topolewski. The Rockets played a corner kick into the Pepperdine goal box, but the ball was initially cleared out of danger. Topolewski then won a free ball in space around the top of the PU circle and found a small seam in the defense. She quickly fired a shot that sailed wide of the target.
Pepperdine continued to apply heavy pressure offensively as the first half wore on, and the visitors took advantage of UT's unsuccessful attempt at an offside trap to grab the early lead on a goal by Williams at 29:26. Teammate Rylee Baisden played a thru ball to Williams past the last line of the Toledo defense, before the skilled attacker finished the sequence with a low shot out of the reach of Tiongson, who had come off her line to try to cut down Williams' angle at the frame.
UT did not panic despite facing the early deficit and retaliated with the first of MacLeod's three goals at the 36:28 mark. The Westerville, OH native received a nice pass from junior Alexis Tice down the right side of the pitch to start the play. MacLeod then went to work and easily beat a pair PU defenders and juked their goalie before hammering home the equalizer.
The Midnight Blue & Gold fed off the emotion of the equalizer to begin the second half and captured its first lead on MacLeod's second tally at 49:25. The home team strung together some good passes from sophomores Geri Siudzinski and Kika Hernandez to MacLeod deep in Pepperdine territory on the right side. The slick-footed MacLeod then finished the play with a couple more nifty moves to shake past a pair of PU defenders and perfectly placed a low shot by goalie Hannah Seabert to make the score 2-1.
Over the next 15-or-so minutes, the Waves had two close-range opportunties to score and once again draw the teams even, but Toledo's Tiongson stood her ground and denied both chances.
The first opportunity came on a pair of shots by Michelle Pao with a little over 34 minutes left in regulation. Pao had the ball deep in UT territory when she fired off a shot that was initially blocked by the interior of the defense. The ball bounced right back to Pao, who quickly regained her composure, and blasted a shot from point-blank range that Tiongson punched over the bar and out of danger.
The other chance to get the equalizer occurred when PU's Kristen Rodriquez had slipped behind the UT defense and was all alone with Tiongson with approximately 30 minutes remaining in the match. Fortunately for the Rockets, Rodriguez took one too many chances and Tiongson came off her line and stole the ball off her foot before she was able to get a shot off.
With time starting to become an issue, Pepperdine made one final push and it paid off when Williams scored her second goal of the contest at 81:06. PU goalie Seabert played a long and high ball deep into the teeth of the UT defense. The sphere took a funny hop and bounced over the backline to a streaking Williams who easily beat Tiongson to make the score 2-2 with less than nine minutes remaining.
Toledo did not want to settle for overtime, but rather played for the victory in regulation and applied great pressure in the closing moments. UT's MacLeod had the ball deep in Pepperdine territory on the right side, before being tripped from behind on the edge of the PU goal box after beating a defender to set up a penalty kick with only 1:34 left in regulation.
MacLeod calmly stepped to the ball to take the kick and perfectly placed a shot into the lower-left corner to provide the eventual match winner and send the UT bench and its fans into a frenzy.
The Rockets will return to the pitch on Friday, Sept. 20 when they host Missouri Valley Conference member Indiana State. The opening whistle is slated for 5:00 p.m. at Scott Park.