ND Women’s Soccer: Notre Dame exits in Sweet 16
By Conor Kelly | Monday, November 25, 2013
In 90 minutes of soccer in arctic conditions at University of Michigan Soccer Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich., two bounces helped to decide the third-round NCAA Championship matchup between No. 23 Notre Dame and No. 11 Michigan on Sunday, as the Wolverines defeated the Irish, 1-0, to end their season.
An inadvertent handball call that led to a successful Michigan penalty kick early in the second half and a red card issued to Irish junior defender Sammy Scofield in the 67th minute proved to be the differences.
“It’s disappointing to get to this point where we lost to a team that we’re actually better than,” Irish coach Randy Waldrum said. “But I’m really proud of the fight they put in, especially in the last twenty minutes when we had the man down.”
With temperatures dipping into the low 20s, the Irish (13-8-1, 7-5-1 ACC) jumped out of the gate strong, controlling play and peppering Michigan freshman goalkeeper Taylor Bucklin with shots early. Notre Dame senior midfielder Mandy Laddish gave the Irish their best scoring chance in the half with her strike off the cross bar in the 15th minute. Irish freshman Kaela Little did her part to keep the Wolverines (18-3-1, 9-1-1 Big Ten) off the board by notching five first-half saves, including a diving stop on a shot by Michigan senior forward Nkem Ezurike.
“The first 25 minutes was very good,” Waldrum said. “I thought we were the better team and had a good rhythm going. For whatever reason, we kind of lost that.”
The Wolverines outshot Notre Dame, 13-3, in the second half and got their best opportunity in the 55th minute when a cross into the Irish box hit Andrews in the arm. Play continued for a number of seconds until the linesman halted play and signaled for a penalty kick. Michigan senior midfielder Meghan Toohey converted the kick to give the Wolverines a 1-0 lead.
Waldrum said the call that led to the penalty kick should not have been made.
“The first thing for me as a coach is if it’s a foul that decides the game, that’s one thing,” Waldrum said. “If it’s a situation like that, where it’s just a bad bounce, a reaction where there no intent, not batting it down with her arm to gain advantage, I just don’t think in an NCAA playoff game you make that call. That’s a tough thing to swallow.”
Twelve minutes later, Scofield ran stride for stride with Ezurike on a ball played over the top of the Notre Dame defense and appeared to bump the Michigan forward, though neither player fell to the turf. The referees served Scofield with a red card, forcing the Irish to play with 10 players for the rest of the game.
“It wasn’t a foul because they were running shoulder to shoulder,” Waldrum said. “I don’t know how you would call it on either one of them because if was equal contact. Neither of them even fell down.”
Playing a man down, the Irish struggled to mount much offense until the game’s final minutes.
They also had to contend with Ezurike, Michigan’s all-time leading scorer, but Little stopped the first-team All-Big Ten selection on a number of occasions.
“I thought we did a pretty good job on [Ezurike],” Waldrum said. “She got a couple of good looks. Kaela Little made a fantastic save on her in the first half, but I think she got most of her looks when we went a man down. I thought Scofield was fantastic on her today. She was the best player on the field along with Kaela in goal.”
Though the Irish mounted a handful of chances at goal in the game’s final minutes, Bucklin kept the game scoreless to end Notre Dame’s season.
“You keep pushing to get a goal, knowing that you’re taking a player out of defense,” Waldrum said. “You’re taking a big risk and gambling a bit, but we knew that we needed the goal. I thought we showed a lot of spirit and had a couple chances to score, so I’m very proud of the effort we put in.”
The loss came after Notre Dame’s 1-0 victory over Western Michigan on Friday in Ann Arbor in the second round of the NCAA Championship. Irish sophomore midfielder Cari Roccaro found the net in the 69th minute to send the Irish to the third round.
Contact Conor Kelly at [email protected].