The (8-6-3, 4-4-2) Huskies asserted their dominance early against the (5-10-3, 1-8-1) Seton Hall Pirates as they finished their regular season out on Thursday night.
Seniors Jessica Mazo, Kara Long, Emma Zaccagnini, Cara Jordan, Jackie Harnett and Duda Santin were honored before the game. While it was Senior Night, freshman forward Chioma Okafor stole the show early on.
Okafor took little time to help push Connecticut in front in the opening minutes of play. In the sixth minute, off an assist from forward Jada Konte, Okafor placed a right footed shot in the bottom right corner. Just ten minutes later she was able to find the back of the net once again with service from both Abbey Jones and Jordan. Okafor was the only goal scorer of the half as the Huskies headed into halftime up 2-0.
Coming out of the half, it only took about five minutes for the freshman to continue her scoring campaign as she netted a third goal in the 51st minute when defender Jackie Harnett drilled a free kick into the box that was brought down by Seton Hall but recovered by UConn where Okafor sent another right footed shot into the left bottom corner.
Seton Hall struggled to find any sort of momentum throughout the game and its stat line showed its season long struggles as well. UConn outshot Seton Hall 19 to eight and created four more corners than Seton Hall.
Konte topped off the scoring as she netted one in the 62nd minute. Assisted by Jordan and Jones, Konte sent a left footed shot into net making the score 4-0. With this win, the Huskies clinched the sixth seed in the Big East Tournament and played third seed (7-4-6, 4-2-3) St. John’s in Queens on Sunday.
From the first whistle to the final whistle this game was nothing short of what the post season is all about. Intensity of play was high from the start as both sides wasted no time in going to goal and creating opportunities. Senior Jordan was quick to strike as she took a shot during the second minute of play. Mazo also followed suit as she took a shot that went out right in the eighth minute. Connecticut was first to many 50/50 balls and took away second chance opportunities from St. John’s for the majority of the first half. St. John’s had equally dominant moments and play remained scoreless in the first half.
In what would be a much longer second half, the Huskies remained hungry as they battled to get on the scoreboard first and managed well as they contained Johnnies’ field general, Jessica Garziano. The senior midfielder who has had 17 shots on goal this season has been a consistency for the Red Storm which can be accredited to her sharp field vision and the ability to create space off the ball. As time continued to grow closer to expiration and the score still sitting at 0-0, the trajectory of the game all changed as Okafor continued her scoring spree from Thursday as she sent a header into the box from a beautifully serviced ball from sophomore defender Laci Lewis in the 52nd minute. Up 1-0, the Huskies now in the driver’s seat continued to make efforts towards the goal as they knew St. John’s would not be going away and a second goal for good measure would be ideal. However, the Red Storm quickly recovered as just 17 minutes later in the 70th minute of play senior forward Isabella Aviza netted a goal from an assist by junior midfielder Ava Collins.
Tied 1-1 with the only 20 minutes left in regulation play both teams frantically made their last efforts to finish it off and escape extra time but that would not be the case. A scary moment did come late in the final minutes as solid junior defender Chloe Landers got caught up in a scrum when fending off a shot attempt where both her and the St. John’s player went down. Landers leads the team in minutes played this season for the Huskies logging 1496 minutes before coming into this game and has only been out for a collective of 34 minutes the entirety of the season. After a few moments, Landers grimacing and tending to her left knee, she was able to come to her feet, test her cutting and remain on the field.
Two ten minute overtime periods were next on deck as both teams were still on the hunt for another goal. With each team not backing down and searching for an answer there was a moment where St. John’s almost had the lead after a second goal was scored but was deemed offsides after further review. After 110 minutes and both teams unable to claim the lead, a penalty shoot-out would determine the winner. The Huskies had a valiant attempt in the shootout, but ultimately couldn’t get it done, losing 4-2.
St. John’s will take on the No. 2 seed Xavier on Thursday in Maryland. This loss results in the end of the Huskies season where they finish at 8-6-4 and 4-4-2 in conference play, but the future is bright, especially with what the squad has in freshman Okafor.