The Penn State women’s soccer team got off to the right start in the NCAA Tournament.
Raquel Rodriguez scored one goal and assisted on another as the second-seeded Nittany Lions dropped Buffalo 4-1 on a chilly Friday night at Jeffrey Field.
Mallory Weber, Megan Schafer and Mallory Peterson also had scores for Penn State (18-3), who head to the second round next Friday back at Jeffrey Field. The team will meet either Connecticut or New Hampshire, who meet Saturday.
“We continue to remind them of our long-term goals,” coach Erica Walsh said. “Now our long-term goals are now medium-term goals and right now, obviously, we’ve got to take it game by game.”
The Nittany Lions dominated most of the night, with a 23-5 advantage in shots and an 11-1 margin in corner kicks. Keepers Britt Eckerstrom and Meghan Kaminski combined for three saves.
Katie Roberts scored on a penalty kick with 4:24 left to spoil the shutout in the first NCAA appearance for the Bulls (16-3-3).
Rodriguez set up Weber for the first score with a cross from the side of the net. Threading the ball between Bull defenders to Weber for a tap-in from just a few feet away. Salina Williford also picked up an assist on Weber’s seventh goal of the year.
Only holding a 1-0 lead at the break despite dominating in possessions left the Nittany Lions a little frustrated.
“Coach gave a good halftime talk,” Weber said. “We got fired up from that and kind of played for our seniors and realized one goal probably wasn’t going to do it today.”
“One of the things we wanted to emphasize was getting to the end line a bit more,” Walsh said. “You look at the service from the first half, and they came from the flank areas or maybe a little deeper, but maybe (they were) ‘hit-and-hope.’ We had 16 crosses in the first half and only five of them connected.”
Penn State netted a pair of goals less than two minutes apart early in the second half. First, Rodriguez had her first shot from the middle of the box blocked by a Buffalo defender, but the rebound bounced right back to the junior’s feet, and she hammered the shot from about 15 yards away past keeper Laura Dougall for goal No. 6 for the junior.
“I saw the goal big and wide,” Rodriguez said. “Just take another shot and it went in.”
Then, Williford sent a long pass straight up the field to a breaking Schafer, and with Dougall racing out to challenge the play, the freshman tapped the ball past the keeper and into the empty net from about 25 yards away for her seventh score of the season.
By that point it seemed Buffalo could not sustain a possession for more than a few touches and a few seconds.
“We were spending a lot of time defending,” Bulls midfielder Courtney Mann said. “That played a part into why we couldn’t keep the ball. We’re running around. It’s hard to keep the ball when you’re exhausted.”
It took until 80 minutes had elapsed before the Bulls finally got some pressure at the other end of the field, with a couple shots and the team’s lone corner kick. A scramble in front of the net produced a foul and Roberts’ penalty kick — her team-leading 12th goal of the season.
Peterson then answered with the final goal, her third of the year, tapping in the ball after a nice combination from Anna Witte and Haleigh Echard.
“That’s a tremendous Penn State team,” Buffalo coach Shawn Burke said. “We had to be perfect to give that team a game.”
Notes: State College product Megan Ritchey got into the action late in the second half and had a brilliant opportunity, taking the ball wide and ripping it just inside the near post, but Dougall deflected the shot. … New Hampshire and UConn meet at 5 p.m. Saturday to determine Penn State’s opponent. … The win was No. 199 all-time at Jeffrey Field.