By Sam Rabuck, Staff Writer
STORRS, Conn. — The Wildcats weren’t able to crack the tough UConn defensive back line Saturday night, as the Wildcats fell to the Huskies by a score of 2-0 in the opening round of the NCAA Division 1 Regional Playoffs.
UConn (14-4-5), who won the American Athletic Conference Championship game last weekend defeating USF, hasn’t surrendered a goal in their last six games, and the Wildcats (8-9-4) were outshot by a margin of 22-7 in what turned out to be the team’s final game of the season.
“We came here and we proved to a bunch of people that we can play with the big dogs,” said UNH midfielder Brooke Murphy. “They probably thought that this would be a blow out, and we proved a lot of people wrong.”
The Wildcats came into the program’s first ever NCAA Playoff game as underdogs, but that didn’t stop UNH from playing the sound soccer that brought the team this far.
“We defended very well individually and in group numbers as a team, which is very important,” said UNH head coach Steve Welham. “When we were able to get the ball on the ground there were a couple of sequences when we were maybe one or two passes away from getting on the weak side and exploiting the flank space.”
The first half of play was tight. Neither UNH nor UConn were able to capitalize on the few scoring chances that presented themselves, and the teams headed into the half tied at 0-0. The Wildcats only took three shots in the first half to UConn’s nine, but many of the Huskies shots were fired well wide of the net.
“We made it easier for them and more difficult for us,” said UConn head coach Len Tsantiris. “[In the first half] we didn’t connect well up front and the passes weren’t there.”
Things opened up in the second half when Huskies’ Tanya Altrui found Danielle Gottwik who sent a missile bar-down to break the tie in the 59th minute.
Four minutes later, UConn struck again. This time it was Samantha McGuire, who scored after receiving a pass from Riley Houle near the top left of the box. UNH goalkeeper Mimi Borkan played well all night, tallying six saves on eight shots on goal, but Borkan never stood a chance on the ball as it sailed into the top right corner of the goal to give the Huskies a commanding 2-0 lead.
“In the second half we went forward, created opportunities, and we got the goals that we needed,” Tsantiris said. “This is the sixth match in a row we haven’t [given up a goal], which is a tribute to the whole team, especially the goalkeepers and defenders.”
With their backs against the wall, the Wildcats didn’t give up. After stringing together passes and working their way into UConn’s defensive zone, UNH looked to capitalize on a well-placed Brooke Murphy corner kick in the 85th minute, but the ball was headed wide of the net.
“UConn had two special goals, there’s no doubt about it,” Welham said. “It took two wonderful, special goals to break us down. [UConn] really wasn’t creating a lot of dangerous chances, and I think that’s a huge credit to the defense and to the team.”
With the loss comes the end of the Wildcat’s 2014 campaign, but UNH has a lot to be proud of. The team was a tough opponent all year, and the America East Conference title that the Wildcats brought home last weekend after defeating Hartford 2-1 was the first in program history.