Rutgers explodes for four goals to rout Minnesota in quarterfinals of Big Ten Tournament
PISCATAWAY — With postseason play underway starting on Sunday afternoon, the No. 9 Rutgers women’s soccer team stressed the importance of treating its matchup with Minnesota like a normal game.
For the Scarlet Knights and their fans at Yurcak Field, this is exactly what they could have hoped for, given their strong play throughout the regular season.
The Knights defeated the Golden Gophers for the second time in as many weeks, this time downing them in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals, 4-1.
The two teams entered the game being extremely familiar with each other given the timeliness of their last matchup, and the game played out in similar fashion.
Minnesota (11-6-3, 6-5-1) scored the first goal early in the game, as Maddie Gaffney scored directly on her corner kick in the third minute to give her team a 1-0 lead.
The Knights (15-2-2, 8-2-2) quickly bounced back with a goal of their own in the 12th minute, as graduate student Cassie Inacio sent a skipping shot from the right side that went past goalkeeper Tarah Hobbs and into the net to tie the game at 1-1.
After the goal, the Knights began to control the tempo of the game and kept pushing the Minnesota defense deeper into their zone.
“Even after we gave up the first goal, I knew we would come back because it is what this team has been doing all year long,” said head coach Mike O’Neill. “We still have to get better with some of our habits, but I am proud of the effort the ladies gave and the type of soccer we played.”
Senior defender Erica Skroski — winner of the Big Ten Defender of the Year award — gave the Knights a 2-1 lead in the 37th minute on a header.
She was assisted by senior forward Rachel Cole on a free kick to connect for the go-ahead goal and eventual game-winner.
After scoring the goal, Skroski showed why she was selected for the aforementioned conference award and made a remarkable diving stop to prevent a Minnesota equalizer in the 43rd minute.
The shot by Minnesota’s April Bockin drew sophomore goalkeeper Casey Murphy off her line and a sliding Skroski went close to the net and kicked the ball out of bounds to block the shot.
Her all-around play is reminiscent of how the team has been playing for most of the season, showing versatility in both phases of the game.
“We played (Minnesota) about two weeks ago and are happy to get the result we wanted again,” Skroski said. “We knew what we had to do and prepared all week like we did against them last time. We knew we had to keep a tight line defensively and play smart offensively, working the ball up field and that’s what we did. It was successful for us.”
Heading into halftime, the Knights outshot the Golden Gophers, 9-4. Murphy the Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year, recorded three saves in the half.
They picked up where they left off after the first 45 minutes of play by starting the second half aggressively and continuing to keep Minnesota on its heels.
Sophomore forward Colby Ciarrocca scored her team-leading seventh goal of the season in the 62nd minute to give the Knights a 3-1 lead when she gained her rebound off her initial shot against Gaffney and sent the second attempt into the net.
But the offensive output was not done there.
In the 78th minute, freshman back Kenie Wright scored after launching a shot near the post, giving the Knights a commanding 4-1 lead.
The No. 3-seeded Knights knocked out No. 6-seeded Minnesota, advancing to the semifinals where they will play Ohio State on Friday.
The offense and defense were in sync once again on Sunday afternoon, as the Knights finished by outshooting the Golden Gophers, 16-8.
This year was the first taste of collegiate play for Wright, who scored her first career goal and was also named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team as a defender.
“We always talk about being ’30 Strong’ and a game like this shows that no matter who comes in, the level of play will stay high,” Wright said. “Everyone wants to win and is ready for this tournament.”
O’Neill and his staff are thrilled with how the team is playing at the most important time of the year, and they feel the best is still yet to come.
“This team gets better every day,” he said. “Every time they come on the field, you can see it, and they just work so hard.”
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