Ducks Battle No. 5 USC To The Wire

EUGENE — Oregon and fifth-ranked USC engaged in a spirited matchup Thursday thick with high-danger scoring chances, acrobatic saves and physical play at Papé Field, with the Ducks giving as good as they got in a 3-1 defeat before 727 fans.

The Ducks (8-2-4, 3-2-1 Pac-12) scored the equalizer late in the first half off a set piece, with Zoe Hasenauer scoring off a corner kick by Chai Cortez. Oregon threatened to break the 1-1 halftime tie several times early in the second half, before the Trojans snatched momentum by scoring on a penalty kick and then added some insurance while surviving an onslaught of UO offense.

“Nothing to be disappointed about from a performance standpoint,” UO coach Graeme Abel said. “We gave them as good a game as I’ve seen them get so far. So the thing for us is to continue moving forward.”

USC came into the match with the sixth-most-prolific offense in the country, and Oregon went toe-to-toe with the Trojans. Each team finished the evening with 17 shots, and each put eight shots on goal.

USC (11-2, 6-0) created more pressure early, tallying the first shot of the match more than 8 minutes in and breaking through for a goal a minute later. Savannah DeMelo took possession near the top of the box and launched a rocket past the outstretched arm of leaping UO keeper Leah Freeman.

About 25 minutes into the match, Oregon began to even the scales. Eden Hardy couldn’t quite execute a give-and-go with Lexi Romero in the USC box in the 31st minute, but six minutes later Chardonnay Curran let a Maya Hahn pass slip through her to Jordan Wormdahl, who passed back to Curran for a shot that was over the crossbar.

All that pressure yielded a goal at the 40:03 mark, when Hasenauer scored on a header off a corner kick by Cortez. It was the latest example of Oregon’s improved execution out of set pieces.

“That’s something you spend time on, and it can be a difference maker,” Abel said. “Really good service, really good finish, and we’ll keep working on those.”

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Hardy forced USC keeper Anna Smith to make a diving save a minute into the second half. One minute after that, Kess Elmore sent a ball to the front of the USC goal that Hardy looked to finish with her head, only to have Smith dive to poke it away. Hardy was able to get the ball to her feet, but her attempt to stuff the rebound home was wide.

That play haunted the Ducks in the end, as did a couple of decisions on collisions in the box in each half. In the 35th minute, Curran had made a charge toward the USC goal and was upended, without a call. About 20 minutes later, a collision in front of the UO goal resulted in a penalty kick for the Trojans, and Croix Bethune put it home for a 2-1 lead at the 55:54 mark.

It took a few minutes but Oregon regrouped, and even increased its pressure. Ally Cook set the tone with seven shots, including a point-blank chance that was saved in the 67th minute and a header that required a USC defender to save it in the 87th minute. She also fired a ball into the USC box in the 83rd minute that deflected off a defender’s elbow and out of play. But in between USC scored off a corner kick, with Freeman making a point-blank save only to have a rebound chance converted.

“One thing you can never, ever take away from our group is that they’ll fight to the death,” Abel said. “That’s just the DNA that’s been instilled in them over the past 18 months. They keep on grinding.”

Notable: Hasenauer moved into a tie for eighth in career points with 35 … Cortez’s assist was her fifth on the season, tied for eighth on the UO single-season chart … Hardy played in her 80th career match Thursday, giving Oregon three players with 80-plus career appearances including Curran at 87 and Mia Palmer at 83 … Cook matched her career high with seven shots.

The Ducks have a week between games, and will next take the field Oct. 21 at Colorado (2 p.m., Pac-12 Live Stream).