STANFORD -- Courtney Verloo scored two second-half goals Friday night as top-ranked Stanford held off No. 17 Santa Clara 2-1 to reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA women's soccer tournament.
Verloo, who suffered a season-ending knee injury three days before the first game last season, got her ninth and 10th goals of 2012 on a rainy night at Cagen Stadium.
"It feels great to finally be back," Verloo said.
Stanford (19-1-1) found itself in a spirited, all-out match to advance to the third round Sunday against Denver. The unranked Pioneers (17-2-4) upset No. 9 Maryland 3-2 in the first game Friday when Nicholette Digiacomo completed a hat trick with a 28-yard shot in the first overtime period.
Santa Clara gave Stanford little breathing room when closing to 2-1 with 14 minutes left on a crafty header by Dani Weatherholt. Then goalkeeper Emily Oliver blocked a promising shot in front of the net with 9:53 left as Stanford eliminated the Broncos for the third time in four years.
Santa Clara coach Jerry Smith was disappointed to lose in the second round but not the way his team played.
"Any time you can play the national champion dead even" it's a strong performance, he said. "Verloo's second goal, you can't defend that."
Verloo struck the game winner in the 60th minute with a blistering 25-yard shot that hit the crossbar and bounced into the back of the net for a 2-0 lead.
"I just saw an opening," she said. "I questioned it for a while. I thought it was going over the net."
Instead it curled inside to help Stanford extend its home unbeaten streak to 64 games, second longest in NCAA history.
Stanford broke through in the 51st minute when Chioma Ubogagu held possession in the penalty box before finding Verloo. She put the ball into the right corner of the net.
Verloo gave her teammate all the credit in Ubogagu's team-leading 10th assist. So did Santa Clara's Smith.
"It changed the game," the coach said.
Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe wasn't pleased with the Cardinal's overall performance but said the stiff challenge will harden his team for the rest of the tournament.
"We always expect it from Santa Clara," added Verloo of the physical game. "That's the nature of competing against them."
Stanford turned back a number of late challenges, including a spectacular play by defender Rachel Quon off goal line with 32 minutes left.
Weatherholt scored in the 77th minute off a cross from Lauren Matheson for Santa Clara (12-4-6).
The first half looked nothing the last time the teams met when the Cardinal opened the season Aug. 17 with a 6-1 victory over the Broncos.
Santa Clara didn't earn a seeding despite being ranked 11th in the Ratings Percentage Index after finishing tied for third in the West Coast Conference. That bothered Smith, who said it wasn't fair to have to face the country's top-ranked team in the second round.
But Santa Clara showed its experience in its 22nd NCAA tournament appearance in 23 years in the first half. The Broncos outplayed Stanford for long stretches, including a curling shot by Weatherholt in the first half that Oliver leapt to her right to just knock away.
"We played about as well as we could," Smith said.
Ratcliffe hopes the Cardinal plays much better in the coming days.
"We never settled," he said. "But we showed great character."
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.