Senior's early strike guides Rutgers past conference foes at home
From the moment the ball was kicked from the center circle by junior midfielder Samantha Valliant and carried upfield by senior forward Amy Pietrangelo to mark the beginning of the match, it seemed as if the No. 25 Rutgers women’s soccer team as in control.
The Scarlet Knights wasted no time setting the tempo in their match with Indiana on Thursday night at Yurcak Field.
At the end of the night when the scoreboard hit all zeroes, Rutgers had topped Indiana, 1-0.
But in their first game back after a grueling Midwest road trip, the Knights appeared sluggish and didn’t seem to play a complete game from start to finish that they have been accustomed to all year long.
At the end of the night, though, head coach Mike O’Neill said that the return to the program’s home turf and the warming cheers resonating from the Rutgers faithful throughout the cool October night were enough to keep the first-year head coach satisfied.
“It’s nothing like coming home,” O’Neill said. “It’s [the players] and their surroundings that [prepares the players], it’s the comfort of home that kind of gets them to the field.”
With the Hoosiers (5-8, 1-6) arriving in Piscataway having dropped five of their last six games, the Knights (8-1-1, 4-1-1) seemed to be in the right place at the right time.
Despite controlling the pace of the game by opening up the match in Indiana territory in the early minutes, the Knights had yet to come close to capitalizing.
That was until the offensive dynamic duo of Pietrangelo and senior forward Stef Scholz drew first blood.
Just seven minutes into the match, the speedy Scholz drove aggressively into Hoosiers territory before dumping the ball off to her running mate on the left. Pietrangelo drew the attention of Indiana’s back line, and despite her shot ricocheting off the defender, it landed in the feet of Scholz.
In the blink of an eye, Scholz ripped a straight shot into the back left corner of the net to give the Knights an early 1-0 advantage.
Her fourth goal of the season was a crucial one. Although it came in the early minutes of the game, it ended up standing as the difference-maker between a win and a draw.
“We had possession, a good play on top of the box and Amy [Pietrangelo] was going for the shot and it rebounded off of a defender, and I was just there to clean it up,” Scholz said.
But to the surprise of many, Indiana didn’t go away.
In fact, the early goal ignited a battle by the Hoosiers rather than Rutgers domination.
Indiana fought back throughout the remainder of the contest — outshooting Rutgers and making freshman goalkeeper Casey Murphy go to work between the posts.
The Bridgewater, New Jersey, native improved to 8-1-1 on the season in the net and recorded her sixth individual shutout of the year, but had to do so after making a career-high nine saves.
To put that stat into perspective, the true freshman had only 23 total saves on the season coming into the match.
“I think Indiana was a very good team,” Morphy said. “They like to serve balls in, and I think our defense did very well clearing [the ball] out wide and staying composed and not breaking down in the back, so I commend them for that. … Our saying is: no shots, no service, no goals, so when we can deny we try and do that.”
It seemed as if the Hoosiers were living in the corners of the field, registering five corner kicks throughout the game while the Knights could only manage a few sniffs of what has been arguably the biggest aspect of their offense.
With Purdue visiting on Sunday, O’Neill ultimately hopes for the team to reach the same goal of another Big Ten victory and points.
“The expectations are always high in the way we play — we want to create opportunities,” he said. “But, you know, it’s not like we come out on the field and say, ‘We’re gonna beat a team by this amount.’ We focus on one goal at a time and have a great deal of respect for the team we play against.”
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