Rutgers moves on to 2nd round of NCAA Tournament with win over La Salle

Three Knights score in 3-1 win over La Salle, as they move on to 2nd round for 4th straight year

Just like the weather that night, the Rutgers women’s soccer team started off cold in its eventual 3-1 victory against La Salle in the first round of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Tournament.

Despite outshooting the Explorers (17-4-2, 9-0-1) in the first half 9-0, the No. 22 Scarlet Knights (13-2-5, 6-2-3) could not find the back of the net as La Salle’s goalkeeper Larisa Zambelli recorded five saves to keep the game knotted at halftime.

Once the second half came around, things began to unravel. During the 52nd minute, Rutgers freshman forward Amirah Ali scored the 1st goal of the game after a pass by senior forward and captain Colby Ciarrocca skidded past the defenders in the box. It was Ali’s 6th goal of the season, which ties her for the team lead with Ciarrocca.

“It's very exciting to advance,” Ciarrocca said. “We take a lot of pride in it, especially getting a win on Yurcak Field and for the seniors since it was our last time stepping on this field.”

Four minutes after Ali’s goal, fellow freshman and midfielder Alexa Ferreira added a goal of her own to make it 2-0, advantage Knights. 

But the Explorers would fight back. Nine minutes later, La Salle’s Madison Bower received the ball in the box and took a shot with her heel that scooted by an outstretched goalkeeper Casey Murphy and quickly made it a 2-1 game.

“They say the most dangerous score in the game is 2-0,” said head coach Mike O’Neill. “And when we got the second goal we kind of took our foot off the gas a little bit and the things that we spoke about like keeping the ball and winning first and second balls, we didn’t do so they got a goal and then from that point they had a little bit of pressure on us.”

For a team that is defined by its defense and coming off a long streak of low scoring affairs going into the game — with the last time Rutgers scored 2 goals in a game being a 2-1 win against Illinois on September 24 — a 2-0 lead was a welcome but unusual sight for the Knights.

Nevertheless, the defense knows the game isn’t over until the last whistle and that it needs to be focused for the entire 90 minutes.

“I mean, yeah (a lead) makes us more comfortable but we know when we’re up it’s not enough so we gotta keep going, keep focusing on the details and do our job,” said sophomore defender Amanda Visco. 

Once Rutgers settled down after La Salle scored its goal, sophomore forward Brittany LaPlant scored in the 80th minute to give the Knights a 3-1 lead, all but capping off the game.

“I think that it was a pretty important goal,” LaPlant said. “After they came back and scored that one goal it was kind of back and forth for a little bit and they kind of gained some momentum so I think that third goal really finished the game for us.”

If Rutgers wants to be successful moving forward in the tournament, it will have to continue this scoring streak — especially against a high-powered offense in No. 7 West Virginia (16-3-2) whom the Knights will play on Friday in Morgantown. 

After Saturday’s performance though, O’Neill has to be encouraged with what he saw.

“To be successful you need to have success on both sides of the ball and I felt we did a good job of that this evening,” O’Neill said.

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

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