Women’s Soccer: Penn State Beats Michigan 1-0, Advance To B1G Championship
After a scoreless first half at a crowded Jeffrey Field, Penn State pulled out a thrilling 1-0 victory over the Michigan Wolverines Friday in the Big Ten Semifinals.
Unlike the last time these two teams met, which resulted in a 3-1 victory for the Nittany Lions, the Wolverines put a lot of pressure on the Penn State defense.
“They came in with an exceptional game plan,” head coach Erica Walsh said. “They did a really nice job of neutralizing our strengths. Their players gave us everything we could handle.”
The top-seeded Penn State Nittany Lions controlled the ball at midfield for most of the first half, with junior and senior midfielders Emily Ogle and Raquel Rodriguez quarterbacking much of the possession.
“Those two were patient and played in a simple way. They were the key to the game today,” Walsh said.
Despite early pressure from the Penn State forward line, it was Michigan’s forward Nicky Waldeck with the first shot attempt with 41 minutes left to play in the first half.
Waldeck also had the only other shot attempt with 33 minutes left to play, but it was Penn State goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom that made a diving save to keep the ball from finding the back of the net. Eckerstrom tallied six saves on the night.
The relentless Penn State defense, composed of sophomores Brittany Basinger and Elizabeth Ball and freshmen Kaleigh Riehl and Ellie Jean, was able to produce a strong Nittany Lion counterattack and keep the ball in Michigan territory for much of the first 45 minutes.
The Nittany Lions produced their first shot on goal on a cross from Basinger. Basinger found Rodriguez just outside the box, but Rodriguez’s shot was blocked.
Penn State outshot Michigan 8-2, producing seven more shots on goal in the first half; two more coming from Rodriguez, two from Ogle, one from forward Frannie Crouse, one from Ball and another from midfielder Nickolette Driesse.
Second half play opened up with high pressure from the Michigan forward line. Waldeck took a hard shot from the top left of the box, but it was saved by Eckerstrom.
The Nittany Lions responded with a strong counterattack for most of the second half with Rodriguez producing the first shot on goal, just over the top of the net.
“Coming out of halftime, we also put Elizabeth up top. We didn’t want to do the same thing over and over again, so we tried to get some different looks against a packed defense,” said Walsh.
Ball, who played forward in high school, managed a header off of a Driesse corner kick, that missed just right of the goal.
“I’ve been a forward my whole life so it is a challenge to push up when I haven’t seen much of the forward line in college play,” said Ball. “I’m always going to put everything in when I go up there, so I think that’s why I won that quick header.”
With 28:30 left to play, Frannie Crouse found the back of the net for the Nittany Lions lone goal from 30 yards out. Her shot missed the outstretched hand of Michigan goalkeeper Megan Hinz, and landed in the bottom right corner to put Penn State up 1-0.
“I usually don’t shoot with my left from that trajectory but I saw the goalie off the line and no one stepping,” said Crouse. “I took a chance and it worked.”
Rodriguez took another hard shot on goal to the bottom left corner with 22:55 left to play, but Hinz was able to make the save. Rodriguez totaled six shots on goal against the Wolverines.
Michigan forward Ani Sarkisian caught Eckerstrom off of her line and took a hard shot with 17:36 left to play, but missed wide left. She sparked a late offensive run for the Wolverines, but the Penn State defense continued to possess for the final 10 minutes of play.
Penn State hasn’t lost a home game since Sept. 20 and looks to keep that streak going in the Big Ten tournament championship game Sunday against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
“We need to come out with a better mentality than our last meeting with Rutgers,” said Crouse. “We came out a little slow off our feet, but we need to be strong and ready to go.”
The match is set for a 2 p.m. kickoff at Jeffrey Field.
Tia Pattillo is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact her, email firstname.lastname@example.org.