Rutgers women’s soccer advances to Final Four with PKs win – Asbury Park Press
Rutgers women’s soccer teamÂ isn’t done making history just yet.
Continuing the winningest season in program history,Â Rutgers advanced to the Final Four for the first time Friday by upsetting No. 1-ranked powerhouse Virginia, 7-6,Â on penalty kicks, after a scoreless regulation and two overtimes.
In a battle of arguably the best offense in the nation (Virginia) against arguably the best defense in the nation (Rutgers), the style of play favored Rutgers for 110 minutes ofÂ action.
“The effort that the 11 players put in on the defensive side of the ball and how hard they worked,” Rutgers coach Mike O’Neill said, “it was inspiring to watch.”
Fittingly, Rutgers goalkeeper was the star of penalty kicks.
Bridgewater native Casey Murphy made the victory-sealing saveÂ and also started an improbable Rutgers comeback with the first of seven straight conversions on the shooting side.
“I’m a forward at heart,” Murphy joked.
“All week we’ve been practicing PKs, and as a keeper I kind of know how to take a PK and score. I wanted to help my team out. I didn’t expect anything less tonight.”
After the first two of fiveÂ rounds, Rutgers trailed 2-0 when Murphy was called on to take the pivotal third kick. She buried it.
“Down 2-0, did I lose faith? Not a chance.” O’Neill said. “At that time, the odds are stacked against you. But when you have someone in goal like Casey Murphy anything is possible.”
The momentum flip continued when Murphy made a save moments later.
“We have one of the best goalkeepers in the country and we knew that she would come up with something,” O’Neill said. “She gained confidence off scoring that goal, and then she comes back and makes the next save. From there, the belief of our team put a little more pressure on them.”
Cassie Inacio and Rachel Cole scored to tie it at 3-3 before Virginia’s All-American Makenzy Doniak hit the crossbar with a chance to clinch a Final Four berth.
Murphy dove right when the shot sailed to the left.
“I’m thinking, ‘This is a sign and now we have to go to the College Cup,'” Murphy said.
Rutgers (20-3-3) scored on each of its next four kicks asÂ Samantha Valliant, Cassidy Benintente, Maggie Morash and Tori Prager delivered under sudden-death pressure.
Virginia answered three times before Murphy made a final divingÂ save on a ball rolling to her right.
“I honestly did guess on the last one,” Murphy said. “I wasn’t really thinking much. In my head, I was like, ‘Keep the ball out of the back of the net and we’ll go to the College Cup.’ There was nothing that set me off to go that way, but I’m really happy I was able to get to it.”
Seeded No. 1, Virginia (20-2-3) was averaging 3.32 goals per game.
Seeded No. 2 and ranked No. 9 in the nation, Rutgers leads the nation with a .327 goals-against per game average.
Virginia had beaten Rutgers in each of the last three seasons, including twice in the NCAA Tournament, by a combined score of 15-1.
“We knew that we would have to put a great team effort in and then in given moments ask players to do some things that are brilliant,” O’Neill said. “As a coach,Â I’m so excited for them. I’m so excited for the university.
“You get a chance to compete for trophies, but the thing that is most special is when you get a chance to watch them achieve something they set out to achieve.”
Rutgers hasn’t been to the Final Four in any sport since the women’s basketball team lost the national championship game to Tennessee in 2007.
The women’s soccer team’s quest to bring a rare national title to Piscataway resumes Friday in Cary, N.C., against either Penn State or West Virginia in the national semifinals.
Staff Writer Ryan Dunleavy: email@example.com