USC grinds out win against Washington, keeps Pac-12 regular season title hopes alive

The Trojans were just clinical enough to get past the Huskies in a physical match.

USC forward Nicole Payne and defender Kaylin Martin win the ball from a toppled Washington player.

At the end of the first half, the statsheet was lopsided. The Trojans outshot the Huskies 14 to three. They had eight corners to Washington’s zero. They dominated possession and looked confident in moving the ball up the pitch.

The score at the break? 1-1.

After a first half of frustration, the Trojans needed a spark. Junior midfielder Croix Bethune was just that. She found herself on the end of a cross from sophomore midfielder Helena Sampaio, daftly chipping the ball past the Washington keeper to regain the lead in the 47th minute.

No. 18 USC buckled down from there, winning its third-to-last Pac-12 matchup 2-1 against Washington at McAlister Field Thursday.

“We just knew it was going to be an absolute fight,” head coach Jane Alukonis said. “[At half], I just said we have to outwork the other team and go as hard as we possibly can. It felt like we did that.”

Two USC starters suffered injuries over the course of the match. Bethune got tangled up with the Washington goalkeeper after scoring her second-half goal. She was carried off the field by her teammates and didn’t return.

Sophomore midfielder Simi Awujo suffered a leg injury and had to be helped off the field in the first half.

There is no timetable for either of the injuries as of yet.

The Huskies sat back and absorbed the Trojans’ pressure for much of the first half, relying on long balls forward to spur counter attacks.

USC kept forcing the issue and broke through in the 11th minute. On their fifth corner of the match, Bethune’s cross was flicked on by an Awujo header into the path of Sampaio, who found the back of the net for her first goal of the season.

It was all Trojans for the majority of the first half, but time and time again, the Huskies came up with big stops. Bethune had a pair of shots cleared off the line by a defender, and Washington graduate student keeper Olivia Sekany made five saves.

Against the run of play, Washington freshman midfielder Kelsey Branson found a lane in behind the USC defense. Her initial shot was saved by graduate student goalkeeper Anna Smith, but Branson collected her own rebound and turned it in for the equalizer in the 42nd minute.

USC’s center back duo of redshirt senior Kaylin Martin and sophomore Brooklyn Courtnall held down the Huskies attack down the stretch. They both played the entire 90 minutes.

“Our center backs have been fantastic all year, and they have a really good partnership,” Alukonis said. “Two totally different personalities and players, but they work really well together.”

Senior forward Hannah White made an impact in 32 minutes off the bench for the USC attack, registering a game-high six shots.

“She created a bunch of chances and gave something to threaten [Washington],” Alukonis said. “It’s nice to pin the other team more than they can pin you.”

Washington wasn’t afraid to get stuck in throughout the match. One member of the crowd affectionately dubbed the Huskies the “Dirty Dogs”. Alukonis didn’t make too much of the physical play, noting “it was a tough game of soccer.”

The Trojans now await results from Stanford and UCLA to see what lies ahead for the regular season title race. Regardless of the scores today, USC will be in contention with two games to go.

“I think we’re in a good spot right now,” sophomore midfielder Aaliyah Farmer said. “If we play like we did today against Washington State and UCLA, we’ll get the outcome we want.”

USC will host Washington State in its penultimate Pac-12 regular season game 12 p.m. Sunday Oct. 30 at McAlister Field.