No. 9 Rutgers advances to second round of NCAAs with 1-0 shutout of FDU
PISCATAWAY — On Friday the 13th, there was nothing unusual from the No. 9 Rutgers women’s soccer team as it opened NCAA Tournament play on its home turf at Yurcak Field.
The Scarlet Knights (17-3-2, 7-2-2) hosted in-state foe Fairleigh Dickinson and exhibited their defensive prowess throughout the contest, along with timely scoring. It followed the script of many of their games during the regular season.
Rutgers advanced to the second round of the tournament by defeating the Knights of Fairleigh Dickinson, 1-0, while tying a school record with their 16th shutout of the season.
The local battle was a tight contest throughout and head coach Mike O’Neill felt his team could have been more aggressive in its attack.
“I was satisfied defensively by the fact that we got the clean sheet, but you can’t play not to make mistakes and I think that’s what we did today,” he said. “We played not to make a mistake, rather than what they normally do, which is to play together. I thought we played it safe and we’re too good of a team to play not to get beat.”
Senior defender Brianne Reed nearly got the Scarlet Knights on the board against FDU (16-6) in the fourth minute, just missing a header to the left of the net.
Another close chance came in the 31st minute on a shot from a few yards in front of the net from freshman midfielder Katelyn Walters, but was deflected by Fairleigh Dickinson goalkeeper Felicia Burr.
But with four seconds left in the half, Rachel Cole received a pass off the left foot of Tori Prager from near midfield. Cole turned the pass around in the box, glided past two defenders and sent a shot by Burr to give the Scarlet Knights a 1-0 lead heading into the break.
Rutgers outshot FDU, 12-3, heading into the break, including six shots on goal.
It was the type of timely goal Rutgers has been accustomed to seeing this season, providing some much-needed momentum entering the second half.
“I was proud that we were able to finish that goal despite the countdown to the end of the half,” O’Neill said. “That was a big goal by Rachel Cole because it’s a goal before the half and let us go into halftime being able to discuss things with more confidence.”
It was the third goal of the season for Cole and her first game-winner. She credited Prager with setting her up for the chance at the pivotal score.
“I saw a huge opening between the two defenders and Tori played a beautiful ball,” Cole said.
The Scarlet Knights continued to control possession in the second half. They had a flurry of offense in the 65th minute with a number of chances from in front of the goal.
Burr made an outstanding leaping save to prevent a rifled shot from sophomore forward Colby Ciarrocca from scoring.
She finished with a season-high 11 saves on the night, while sophomore goalkeeper Casey Murphy only needed to record one save for Rutgers.
The ScarletKnights outshot Fairleigh Dickinson, 21-7, decisively outperforming the Northeastern Conference champions who were tied for 11th in the country in goals per game (2.38) coming into the tournament.
In front of a lively crowd of 1,177 on a cold November night, the Scarlet Knights bounced back from their previous loss.
Facing Hofstra in the second round, Rutgers expects to keep the momentum rolling and its season alive.
“After losing to Penn State, that kind of hurt us for a little bit, so getting the win was huge,” said junior midfielder Madison Tiernan. “Coming back and coming out on our home field, and getting so much support from our fans was really important and we were glad to get the win.”
For updates on the Rutgers women’s soccer team, follow @Mike_OSully2 and @TargumSports