Oct. 28, 2012
Cari Roccaro (East Islip, N.Y./East Islip) scored with 12:47 remaining to lift No. RV/24 Notre Dame to a 1-0 victory over defensive-minded Syracuse in the quarterfinals of the BIG EAST Conference Championship on a cold and blustery Sunday afternoon at Alumni Stadium.
Roccaro gathered in a long lead pass from junior midfielder/tri-captain (and United States Under-20 World Cup champion teammate) Mandy Laddish (Lee's Summit, Mo./Lee's Summit), beating Syracuse goalkeeper Brittany Anghel to the ball at the top of the box, dribbling around an Orange defender and then scoring from 15 yards out into the empty net, sending the Fighting Irish to the BIG EAST semifinals for the 16th time in their 18 seasons as a conference member.
With the victory, Notre Dame advances to the BIG EAST Championship semifinals at 4 p.m. (ET) Friday in Storrs, Conn., where the Fighting Irish will face No. 16/12 Marquette (the American Division champion) at Morrone Stadium. Both semifinals (South Florida meets No. 14/18 Georgetown in Friday's second contest), as well as the Nov. 4 title match (noon ET) will be televised live to a national cable audience by CBS Sports Network.
Notre Dame (13-4-2) now is unbeaten in 11 of its last 12 matches, but had to work hard all afternoon to pry open a stout Syracuse defense, not to mention solve one of the BIG EAST's top netminders in Anghel. The Fighting Irish finished with a 17-7 shot advantage, including a 7-2 edge in shots on goal (plus two other tries that hit the crossbar), and earned a 7-3 margin on corner kicks.
Freshman goalkeeper Elyse Hight (Edmond, Okla./Bishop McGuinness) was strong when she had to be on Sunday, making two saves for her third consecutive solo shutout, and her fourth of the season (to go along with one shared clean sheet). Anghel kept her side in contention with six saves, including a huge early stop that kept the Fighting Irish from immediately gaining the upper hand.
"At this time of year, you want wins, no matter how they may look, and that's what we got today," Notre Dame head coach Randy Waldrum said. "It certainly wasn't our best performance by any means, but some of the credit for that has to go to their defense. We also had some chances in the first half to get the lead, and I think it would have been a different margin had we been able to pull them out of that defensive style earlier on. We did a better job of pressuring them in the second half and eventually it paid off, with Cari making a very composed play to get around their keeper and the defender and then not rush her shot into the empty net. There's a lot we can learn from a game like this, but we're happy to be moving on and looking forward to the conference semifinals next weekend."
The Fighting Irish had a golden opportunity almost right off the opening kickoff, working the ball down the right side to junior forward/tri-captain Elizabeth Tucker (Jacksonville, Fla./Bishop Kenny), who delivered a dangerous service near the top of the six-yard box. Roccaro knifed inside her defender and smashed a header from 10 yards out towards the right post, but Anghel tracked the shot well and grabbed it with a dive to her left.
Tucker herself then challenged the Syracuse net in the ninth minute, timing her run on a cross by sophomore forward Lauren Bohaboy (Mission Viejo, Calif./Santa Margarita), but ringing her own short-range header off the crossbar before the Orange defense recovered to clear the rebound out for a corner kick.
Bohaboy took a turn on frame in the 22nd minute, as Tucker's right-side cross snaked through traffic and found its way to the top left of the box. Bohaboy collected the pass, turned on her defender and drilled a 15-yard left-footed shot that was curling away from Anghel, but also wound up twisting wide of the right post.
Syracuse (9-7-2) got its lone shot on goal of the first half in the 28th minute, as Alyscha Mottershead tried a flick header off a long-range free kick, but her shot bounced harmlessly to Hight near the left post. Maya Pitts also technically was credited with a shot off the crossbar in the 32nd minute, as her ambitious 30-yard attempt to catch Hight off her line clipped the top of the frame on its way over the by-line.
In the second half, Notre Dame was on the front foot for virtually the entire period, thanks in large part to playing with an occasionally gusty breeze at its back. Tucker made a bid on goal in the 53rd minute, grabbing a deflected cross from sophomore midfielder Taylor Schneider (Southlake, Texas/Carroll Senior) at the right edge of the six-yard box, but her sharp-angled shot went into the outside of the goal netting.
About three minutes later, freshman defender Brittany Von Rueden (Mequon, Wis./Divine Savior Holy Angels) had her own brush with the woodwork, curling her corner kick from the left flag squarely off the crossbar, but no Fighting Irish player was in the vicinity to knock in the rebound.
Syracuse had a couple of dangerous chances, the first coming right on the hour mark, when Erin Simon seemed to have gotten behind the Notre Dame defense and drilled a short-range header that Hight parried wide of the right post. However, Simon was flagged for offsides and the shot was wiped from the books. Six minutes later, Mottershead officially took her team's first shot off the second half, a try from the top of the area that drifted wide right.
As time worn on, Anghel got more and more adventurous coming off her line, and in the end, it would cost her. Laddish won a ball just shy of the midfield stripe and alertly lofted a chip over the Syracuse backline for Roccaro. Anghel came out to try and beat the Notre Dame rookie to the ball, but Roccaro got there first and poked it free before a second quick touch allowed her to round the last Orange defender. Roccaro then recognized the open net and slotted home the decisive goal at 77:13.
Syracuse tried in vain to find the tying score in the closing minutes, but Pitts' shot from distance that skipped right into Hight's waiting arms in the 80th minute was the only Orange shot (let alone on goal) in the final 24 minutes of the match.
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POST-MATCH NOTES: Notre Dame improves to 12-1 all-time in BIG EAST Championship quarterfinal matches, with a 47-3 aggregate score in those contests since the conference added the quarterfinal round to its tournament in 1998 ... the Fighting Irish raise their record in BIG EAST postseason matches to 37-4-1 (.893) all-time, including an 18-1 record at home, where Notre Dame has outscored its conference tournament foes by a 64-6 margin ... Roccaro is the fifth Fighting Irish player this season to score at least five goals, while Laddish is the sixth Notre Dame player with at least three assists this year ... Roccaro is the first Fighting Irish freshman to score a goal in BIG EAST Championship play since Nov. 9, 2008, when Melissa Henderson scored 6:58 into the first overtime to give Notre Dame a 1-0 victory over Connecticut in the BIG EAST title match at old Alumni Field ... the Fighting Irish jump to 9-0 all-time against Syracuse, including a 4-0 record at home, and have outscored the Orange, 38-3 in the series ... Sunday marked the first postseason match between Notre Dame and Syracuse since Nov. 6, 1998 (a 5-1 Fighting Irish victory in the BIG EAST semifinals at Storrs, Conn.) ... Notre Dame is unbeaten in 32 of its last 37 matches on Sunday (27-5-5 record) and it owns a 46-7-6 (.831) mark in its last 59 contests played on a Sunday ... Hight extended her scoreless minutes streak to 402:18, dating back to Sept. 9, when she allowed a goal to Washington's Jaclyn Softli.
Syracuse 0 - 0 -- 0
Notre Dame 0 - 1 -- 1
Total Shots: Syracuse 7 (5-2), Notre Dame 17 (7-10)
Shots On Goal: Syracuse 2 (1-1), Notre Dame 7 (2-5)
Saves: Syracuse 6 (Brittany Anghel 6 in 90:00), Notre Dame 2 (Elyse Hight 2 in 90:00)
Corner Kicks: Syracuse 3 (3-0), Notre Dame 7 (1-6)
Fouls: Syracuse 10 (5-5), Notre Dame 7 (4-3)
Offsides: Syracuse 2, Notre Dame 5
Records: Syracuse 9-7-2, Notre Dame 13-4-2