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Rutgers hosts Ohio State in Big Ten Tournament semifinal

<p>Senior defender Erica Skroski believes the Knights will be successful if they play like they have all season against OSU.</p>

Senior defender Erica Skroski believes the Knights will be successful if they play like they have all season against OSU.

For a team filled with talent and high expectations, the No. 7 Rutgers women’s soccer team has been able focus in on each game throughout the season as if it were the most important one on the schedule.

The program navigated a tricky non-conference schedule, headlined by a victory over then-No. 20 Connecticut, then posted a 7-2-2 conference record in the Big Ten.

The Scarlet Knights now enter the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament with a 15-2-2 overall record, having gone unbeaten in their last nine games (7-0-2).

As they prepare to play an Ohio State team which they already defeated by a 2-0 score a few weeks ago, the Knights remain excited about their postseason prospects and keep the historic ride going.

“We try to do a good job with scouting reports and making sure that the players are always prepared,” said head coach Mike O’Neill. “But it also comes down to the individual battle, and our players recognize the level of their opponents and raise their level of play. They look forward to these kinds of games.”

The No. 3 seed Knights are playing the No. 7 seed Buckeyes (11-5-3, 5-4-2) for a second time after their upset over No. 2 seed Wisconsin.

Rutgers took care of business by beating No. 6 seed Minnesota for a second time this season in the quarterfinals, with hopes of replicating that performance on Friday.

The semifinals take place at Penn State, as the No. 1 seed Nittany Lions are the top seed in the tournament.

As the Knights take their show on the road, they intend to approach this game with the same confident demeanor they have had throughout the season.

“We’re just going to go into the game prepared like we always are,” said senior defender Erica Skroski. “If we continue doing what we’ve been doing all season, we should be fine. We’ve played Ohio State already this year and we’re ready for round two.”

Skroski was named Big Ten Defender of the Year and earned a spot on the First Team All-Big Ten Team.

She made her mark in the victory over Minnesota in the quarterfinals by scoring a goal and making a diving stop to prevent an equalizing goal before halftime.

Those two plays were pivotal in the win, and her presence on the field as an active defender and leader give the Knights confidence in each game they play.

“Erica is one of the best players to play at Rutgers in my 15 years here,” O’Neill said. “These playoff games are games of moments, and that stop was a big moment at the end of the half that kept the game at 2-1 instead of 2-2. If that goal goes in, maybe it takes some of the wind out of our sails. But she made a great play and we went out and had a great second half.”

As the Knights inch one step closer to possibly becoming the school’s first ever Big Ten champions, they realize that there is still another step before reaching the pinnacle.

To get to their first ever Big Ten Championship game, they know they cannot overlook an Ohio State team that is led by goalkeeper Devon Kerr, who is second in the Big Ten in save percentage behind Casey Murphy of the Knights.

“Every practice, we go into it with the same mentality of trying to win the Big Ten Championship,” said freshman midfielder Kenie Wright. “We have to stay focused and take it one game at a time, and the next step is playing well against Ohio State.”

For updates on the Rutgers women’s soccer team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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