PISCATAWAY, N.J. — The final score does not illustrate just how competitive of a game was played Sunday afternoon in a Sweet 16 matchup between No. 18 UConn women’s soccer and No. 9 Rutgers.
But for the Huskies, it is a 4-0 loss that will remain in the team’s record books.
Despite the margin of victory, the Scarlet Knights only outshot the Huskies 16-15. Unlike in the regular season game between the two teams in September, the side with more shots walked away with the win.
UConn’s season ended exactly how any observer would have predicted. The Huskies fired off nearly a dozen quality shots, but not a single one found the back of the net. That has been a consistent struggle for the offense, which averaged 1.87 goals on 17.3 shots per game.
In addition, the same defensive lapses that plagued the Huskies in the American Athletic Conference semifinal game against Cincinnati remerged and cost them once again.
This time, the season was on the line in the NCAA Tournament third round.
UConn (19-4, 8-1 American) fell to the region’s No. 2-seed Rutgers (19-3-2, 7-2-2 Big Ten) in a 4-0 season-ending loss at Yurcak Field in Piscataway, New Jersey.
“It was an even game,” head coach Len Tsantiris said following the loss. “It’s a cruel game. That’s the problem. Sometimes it’s going to go your way, sometimes it’s not. It was tough, because you are chasing the game and you have to create (opportunities). The other team gets to sit back and destroy. That’s easy.”
The Scarlet Knights scored two goals in a span of three minutes in the first half, capping off five minutes of unceasing offensive pressure.
Junior forward Madison Tiernan struck first for Rutgers in the 29th minute. She fired in a corner kick placed squarely in the center of the box to put the Scarlet Knights up 1-0.
The pressure did not stop after the goal, however. Rutgers capitalized again in the 32nd minute as freshman midfielder Katelyn Walters headed in a second goal for the Scarlet Knights.
Despite being down two goals at the half, the Huskies still believed it was far from over.
“A 2-0 lead is the most dangerous lead in soccer,” junior forward Rachel Hill said. “Everyone’s heads were up coming out of the locker room, and we knew we were still in it.”
UConn came back out onto the field with renewed offensive pressure, but Rutgers regained control after two quick minutes. That’s when the Scarlet Knights all but put the game away in the 50th minute with a goal by graduate student forward Cassie Inacio, giving Rutgers a 3-0 lead.
Hill said it was the third goal that finally woke up the team and forced the Huskies to “start pressuring them even harder.”
“It’s just unfortunate we waited so long to step up,” Hill said. “We definitely came out with not as much heart today.”
Rutgers goalkeeper Casey Murphy made seven saves for the Scarlet Knights and stopped every UConn attempt to get on the board late in the second half.
The Huskies mounted a comeback effort in the final 10 minutes, but they still failed to break down an impenetrable Rutgers defense that held UConn scoreless in two games this season, including a 2-0 regular season loss at Yurcak Field on Sept. 13. The Huskies outshot the Scarlet Knights 18-13 in that game.
Junior goalkeeper Emily Armstrong gave up four goals for the first time this season, including one final goal in the 90th minute when she was caught at midfield trying to help the late offensive push. She added three saves to finish the season with a new career high, 72 saves.
Hill tied her single season career-high in goals scored, 16, in the team’s second-round win against No. 10 Notre Dame. She could not extend the total Sunday in New Jersey despite taking four shots, three of which were on goal.
UConn finished its 2015 campaign with an American Athletic Conference regular season title and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament third round for the first time since 2007.
Tsantiris said whether the team builds on this season’s success in the coming year will depend on leadership. He said losing the senior class will leave a void that needs to be filled. Armstrong, though, is optimistic about the team’s ability to succeed in 2016.
“Everyone traveled this on trip for a reason,” Armstrong said. “We stay together no matter what. I think that I’m just excited about next season, but I’m also very proud of what we’ve accomplished this season.”