NEWTON, Mass. -- As the horn sounded to signal the end of the first of two overtime periods between No. 2 Stanford and No. 7 Boston College on Friday, Eagles women's soccer coach Alison Kulik made a beeline for goalkeeper Jillian Mastroianni, intercepting her as she walked toward the home team's bench.
"A tie with them won't be too bad," Kulik said she told her keeper. "You've got one job to do: Don't let the ball go in the goal in the last 10 minutes."
Mastroianni didn't, albeit with an assist from her crossbar on a Cardinal header in the game's final minute, and the exhausted Eagles walked away after 110 minutes of soccer with a 1-1 tie against the team that eliminated them from the NCAA tournament quarterfinals last season.
Boston College has three and a half months to make its case as the best team in women's college soccer. For the season's first night, proving itself equal was enough.
A year ago, there were 245 people in the stands to watch Boston College open its season at home on a Friday against Fairfield. Those fans perhaps went home happier after the Eagles rolled to a crowd-pleasing 5-0 win, but the announced crowd of 2,000 filling the bleachers and lining the fences around the field on this night saw a sink-or-swim proposition to start the season. And coming out of the deep end exhausted and a little battered but unbowed and unbeaten, thanks to Natalie Crutchfield's second-half equalizer, revealed more about what this team is -- and what it still isn't -- than styling in the wading end against a weaker foe would have.
It didn't hurt to have a life preserver in goal. If not for Mastroianni, who made 10 saves in the game, including at least two on point-blank shots in the first half that few other college keepers could be counted on to make, there might well have been a gurgling noise drifting out of one end of the Newton Soccer Field by the second half.
For a lot of teams in women's college soccer, the truth is they hope their own keeper doesn't lose a game. Mastroianni can help win a game.
"I'll go back to my mantra about my goalkeeper; she's the best goalkeeper in the country," Kulik said. "When you're playing a team that's the caliber of Stanford -- and certainly I think we're right behind them -- they created some more opportunities than we did. In a circumstance like that, you need a goalkeeper to come up big for you."
Stanford broke through first in the game, erasing a scoreless tie in the 56th minute when Lindsay Taylor drilled a shot to the far post from 23 yards, the ball slicing away from a helpless Mastroianni. The only surprise at that point was that it was Taylor who put Stanford on the scoreboard and not senior Christen Press.
Talking earlier in the week about the quarterfinal loss that ended last season, Kulik emphasized how much she felt former Stanford star Kelley O'Hara dominated the postseason game in both body and mind, scoring twice and setting a tone for the team around her. But as will surely prove to be the case on a regular basis for Stanford's opponents this season, Press offered her own dazzling interpretation on the same theme.
Time and again in the first half Friday, Press either found open space or created it for herself, getting off five shots, including the two Mastroianni saved, and generally looking like the best player on the field.
"I give a lot of credit to Christen Press; I think she's one of the best forwards [in the country]," Kulik said. "What she does so well is she comes off the back line and she finds her space and she really tries to pull your backs out of sequence and away from each other."
Lacking the big names of the team's attacking players, Boston College's back line of Hannah Cerrone, Alyssa Pember, Chelsea Regan and Alaina Beyar found itself with few chances to catch its breath. But after doing just enough -- and getting some help from its keeper -- to limit the damage in the first half, it took a higher line in the second half, contained Press and left Stanford to force many of its 22 shots from outside the 18-yard box. Taylor's found the back of the net; the rest did not.
"I think we did a good job handling [Press] in the second half," Pember said. "First half, we needed to fix some things. In the first half, she was having time to turn comfortably and dribble at us with 10 yards. In the second half, we tried to pretty much just step up so that if she turned, we were right there if the ball got played to her."
If Pember and Beyar, in particular, were candidates for player of the match for Boston College, arguably the best player on the team was definitely not for much of the night. While Press seemed to be everywhere, particularly in the first half, Kristen Mewis rarely seemed to be in the middle of the action, despite a spot in the middle of midfield. With Boston College largely counterattacking because of Stanford's dominance of ball possession, Mewis couldn't get going.
That is, right up until the point when she controlled a seemingly harmless ball at midfield in the 64th minute, turned and chipped a precise ball into the box for Crutchfield to run onto and finish.
"They did a good job on Kristie tonight, and they need to because she is one of the best players in the country, if not the world," Kulik said of Mewis. "What we talked to Kristie about was, 'You might not have a game where you're keeping the ball and touching the ball the whole entire game, but you might just need to provide that one special play for us.' I thought she did. Natalie's not scoring unless she gets a perfect pass from Kristie Mewis like that."
Boston College wasn't the best team on the field Friday. Its best field player didn't have her best game. But the Eagles got a masterful performance from another star and a phenomenally tough-minded performance from the back line in front of her. And they were good enough for the scoreboard to say they're every bit the equals of the best.
It's not a recipe for success every game, but if your goal is to be the best by the end, it's a starting point.
Graham Hays covers women's soccer, basketball and softball for ESPN.com.