Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Generating wave after wave of offensive pressure, the MacEwan Griffins ran into a hot goalkeeper and still managed to beat the University of Regina Cougars 4-0 in their Canada West play-in-game Friday afternoon at Foote Field.
Regina's Kylie Bolton kept her team in it, particularly early when she made 10 saves on 12 first-half shots – four of those being of the spectacular diving variety – but she wasn't Superwoman.
Raegan McCarthy scored twice in the first half, while Maya Morrell and Salma Kamel also had goals for the Griffins, who generated 30 shots attempts and 15 on net throughout the contest.
"That's probably our best offence we've had all year," said McCarthy, who nearly completed the hat-trick in the 63rd minute, just putting one over the bar. "We were really strong connecting and getting balls forward. We had lots of shots and good crosses."
With the win, the Griffins (9-3-2) advance to Sunday's Canada West quarter-final match (2 p.m., Foote Field) against cross-town rival Alberta (9-2-3). It's a rematch of 2017 when the Griffins stunned the higher-seeded Pandas at the same venue to advance to their second-straight Final Four.
Expect a terrific battle between two squads who always play these rivalry matches tooth and nail.
"We're jacked," said MacEwan head coach Dean Cordeiro. "That's who we want to be playing. We didn't get to play them in the regular season. It's always an electric game. Now there's way more at stake.
"For us, it doesn't matter who we play, if we play our game and execute, I like our chances," he added. "It's just a matter of making sure we use these 48 hours wisely before we've got to step back onto the pitch."
MacEwan's offence executed at a fine clip on Friday afternoon, even if it took a little while for the train to hit top speed leaving the station.
Regina had the first early chance of the game 24 seconds in when Sydney Langen got an open run down the left but ripped it wide of the far side.
"Our biggest thing is we wanted to get off to a strong start," said Cordeiro. "The regular season means nothing in terms of records. We knew they'd be fired up.
"Early on we had to absorb a little bit and once we settled in and played our game, we took control. We definitely generated a lot of chances."
After a few early chances, MacEwan got on the board in the 18th minute when McCarthy tapped a rebound into an empty net off a Salma Kamel shot.
The game stayed in doubt for most of the first half, belying the intense pressure MacEwan put on Regina. But goalkeeper Kylie Bolton kept the Cougars in the contest with several diving stops.
She lunged to tip a Suekiana Choucair shot over the bar in the 11th minute, tipped a Morrell ripper over the net in the 32nd and got her fingertips on a Kamel blast from the middle of the box to send it wide in the 38th. Bolton dove again on a sharp-angle shot from Sarah Riddle in the 39th that was labelled for the far top corner.
"Credit their keeper Kylie, she made a couple of highlight-reel saves in the first half," said Cordeiro. "She's a local kid from Edmonton and she stepped up for them.
"For us, I think we showed our depth today. We were able to get all our field players in and be consistent and not miss a beat."
The iron was also Bolton's best friend. In the 43rd, Choucair sent a perfect stabbing cross across the box to McCarthy, who ripped a cracker bar down … except it stayed out.
Just a minute later, though, McCarthy delivered a sublime strike to the top corner from 30 yards away off a corner kick to put the Griffins in front 2-0.
"When I started running backwards, I thought it might go over or hit the crossbar again, so I was pretty excited it went in," she said.
Added Cordeiro: "Rae can change the game in a moment's time. She's been great for us. She tied for the team-high in goals with four in the season. She stepped up and scored two big ones for us today. She really got things going."
MacEwan kept coming in the second half, scored again in the 58th minute. Morrell was sent in on a partial break by Brittany Costa and she slotted in the low left corner.
Kamel added a fourth tally for MacEwan in the 64th when she ran onto a 55-yard Jamie Erickson free kick and touched it past the keeper.
Emily Burns made six saves for the third playoff shutout of her Canada West career.
And now it comes down to Sunday when the two Edmonton rivals will put it all on the line for a trip to the Final Four at the home of the highest-remaining Pacific Division seed.
"I think we're all pretty excited," said McCarthy. "We love to play the U of A and give them a good game. Hopefully we can beat them again."