UNIVERSITY PARK — It could have been worse, and both teams knew it.
For as much as the Penn State women’s soccer team dominated its NCAA first-round meeting with Long Island University, head coach Erica Walsh, admitted to being greedy, dwelling as much on the missed goals as the ones made.
Still, her Nittany Lions scored more than enough while her defense was solid in a 4-0 win over LIU-Brooklyn on Saturday night at Jeffrey Field.
“I want to see them at their best,” Walsh said. “I thought at moments we were quite good, but too many of those moments were in the second half. I thought the performance in the first half left a lot to be desired.”
Penn State, the No. 1 seed in its region, stays home to meet Boston College at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the second round, following Michigan and No. 4 Portland meeting at 5 p.m. Winners of those games will tangle on Sunday.
Christine Nairn, Raquel Rodriguez, Tani Costa and Maya Hayes scored the goals for the Nittany Lions (18-3-1), who led the nation in scoring at 2.95 goals per game entering the tournament.
“I think we did well,” said Nairn, who leads the team with 11 scores. “Four goals — we wanted to score early and often. We didn’t come out exactly how we wanted, but four goals from four different people, that just shows how many weapons we have.”
The lopsided numbers included a 21-3 advantage in shots, including 8-1 in shots on goal, and a 12-0 margin in corner kicks as the Nittany Lions kept up the pressure all night.
“The pace of Penn State players is phenomenal,” Blackbirds coach Tracey Bartholomew said. “I don’t even think our track kids could keep up with some of them.”
LIU keeper Jessica Sexton at times had to feel under siege.
“Penn State just had so many numbers coming up again and again,” said Sexton, who had four saves. “I thought we held our ground for a little while. They just kept beating us on crosses, so we tried to figure out different ways to get at them and get numbers up.”
While Sexton did all she could, the final score could have been far more decisive if not for some help from her teammates and a nunber of near-misses by the Nittany Lions.
Four times a defender standing on the goal line cleared the ball after Sexton was beaten, and four other times midfielder Emily Hurd sent magnificent crosses from the sideline to the middle that were redirected barely wide or got blocked.
“M-Hurd was just dicing people over there,” Nairn said. “She’s been putting a lot of work in in practice and it’s definitely paying off. She gives us 10 good ones a game, and if we can finish one of them it would be awesome. We still need to work on finishing our opportunities.”
Walsh had her eyes down the road in the NCAA Tournament when she admitted to being “greedy” with the scoring opportunities, but she was happy to see some of the chances converted.
“You want to put yourself in a position to score goals,” Walsh said. “We did time and time again. But at the end of the day games are won and lost, you’ve got to put the ball in the back of the net.”
Nairn started the scoring, taking a feed from Mallory Weber and deftly chipping the ball past Sexton midway through the first half. Rodriguez added her score with 4:08 left in the half, with no chance for Sexton after a sparkling service from Mallory Peterson.
Costa put in her score from about 10 yards out off a pass from Hayes, then the junior closed the scoring by taking a chip from Taylor Schram and fired from about six yards away. Sexton blocked the shot, but the rebound went right back to Hayes with an empty net in front of her for her 10th goal of the season.
“I always hope I can hold onto things,” Sexton said. “She’s a very good player and we just needed to work on getting behind the ball a little bit better. They just kept attacking again and again. Their pace did slow down the entire game.”
With all the shots at the one end, keeper Erin McNulty didn’t see much action at the other, needing to make one save for the shutout. The Blackbirds did venture down the field quite a few times, but the defense rarely let the ball get anywhere near the Nittany Lion net.
“It just takes a lot of communication,” said defender Whitney Church. “We have to make sure that we’re all on the same page. For the most part I feel we did a good job with that.”