The "Riley Ridgik as striker" experiment seems to be gaining momentum.
Ridgik scored her 7th goal of the season to lift Wake past Clemson 1-0 in a battle of teams scrapping for the final ACC Tournament places. Ridgik finished off a counter-attack in the 52nd minute by running onto a through-ball from Ally Berry, taking one touch, then flicking the ball at a difficult angle past the Clemson goalie Kailen Sheridan. The goal marked the beginning of a dominant second half by the Deacs, who were never really threatened in the last 40 minutes.
The first half was a much different story... I think. Because the previous game (NC State-Syracuse) ran into overtime, I was unable to watch the first 20 or so minutes. Judging by statistics and the commentary, Clemson had the bulk of possession and generated a few low-percentage shots that Aubrey Bledsoe had no trouble stopping.
Clemson should have scored late in the first half. A long free kick into the box forced Bledsoe off her line, but her attempts to punch the ball clear in the scrum were unsuccessful. The ball fell to Kylie Tawney, who realized that Bledsoe was out of position and tried to spin and shoot. Tawney's spin took her off balance, and the effect of her fall was to lift the ball just enough for the ball to ricochet off the crossbar and over the goal.
After intermission, Ridgik's goal sparked the Deacs into a dominant effort. Behind midfield possession by Annick McBreyer and Sarah Teegarden, the Deacs left Tiger defenders flailing as the ball quickly moved around the field into and out of dangerous areas. Ridgik was able to create dangerous chances for other Deacons, but the final touches were lacking. Still, the period was an encouraging sign for the Deacs, who will have to play consistently at that level if they wish to pose a threat to win the ACC and NCAA Tournaments.
1) Annick McBreyer hasn't gotten as much playing time this season, but she put in a strong case for inclusion with her performance today. She looked to be the dominant midfield player when Wake had the ball, playing a similar role to that which Jared Watts plays for the men's team. Easily her best game of the season.
2) The central defense pairing of Kim Marshall and Caralee Keppler continued their strong run of recent play. I cannot praise their defensive work enough. Keppler even made a 60 yard run in the dying seconds of the first half to set up Wake's best scoring chance before halftime.
3) Jackie Stengel (Katie's sister) is a freshman at NC State. She was injured in the overtime against Syracuse and did not return, although it seemed unlikely that the injury would be significant. Still, between that and Katie's blood clots, rough week for the Stengels. Hope they both get better soon.
4) Tony da Luz is notoriously fickle about dispensing playing time, but he seems to have mostly settled on a post-Stengel 4-2-3-1 lineup:
GK: Aubrey Bledsoe
Left Back: Jessica Mandarich
Center Backs: Kim Marshall and Caralee Keppler
Right Back: Megan Curran
Holding Midfielders: two out of Sarah Teegarden, Annick McBreyer, and Jackie McSally
Left Wing: Courtney Owen/Chelsea DiLiberto/Taylor Waters
Forward Midfielder (central): Ally Berry
Right Wing: Kendall Fischlein
Striker: Riley Ridgik
5) Riley Ridgik seems more comfortable playing the striker role. She had several good ideas in terms of setting up teammates, and the goal was a truly great little flick given the difficulties of the angle and the quality of Sheridan. She also has proven to be capable of holding up play, and probably has the best dribbling skills in terms of beating defenders on the team.
1) Virginia (10-0-0) - 30 points
2) Florida State (8-0-2) - 26 points
3) Virginia Tech (8-1-1) - 25 points
4) North Carolina (7-3-0) - 21 points
5) Notre Dame (5-4-1) - 16 points
6) (tie) Clemson (4-4-2) and Wake Forest (4-4-2) - 14 points
8) Boston College (4-5-1) - 13 points
9) Duke (3-4-3) and Maryland (4-6-0) - 12 points
11) Miami (3-6-1) and Syracuse (3-7-1) - 10 points
13) NC State (1-10-0) - 3 points
14) Pitt (0-10-0) - 0 points
The line represents the cutoff point for the ACC Tournament. The top 8 teams make it, with the top 4 hosting quarterfinals. Wake was 9th coming into the game today. 8th place looks to be a death sentence, as Virginia is still destroying everything in its path (2-0 win in Chapel Hill today), but 6th or 7th figure to present winnable (or tie-able) matchups: Wake has already tied Florida State this season and played Virginia Tech even through regulation before losing in overtime. Obviously, Wake is likely to have to play to play its quarterfinal on the road.
Now the good news: Wake has 3 games remaining, two of which are against NC State and Pitt. Barring a major upset, Wake looks likely to take 6 points from those two games. The third game is at home on Sunday against UNC. A win in that game could force the Heels to win one of their other two games (against Clemson and Duke, if you're wondering) in order to get home-field advantage. More than likely, however, Wake is looking at either the 5 or 6 seed, with a game in either Blacksburg or Chapel Hill in the quarterfinal.
More good news: given the likelihood of two additional wins, the Deacs appear to be relatively safe in regards to making the NCAA Tournament as well. Making the ACC Tournament obviously would help, but teams have made the NCAA Tournament while missing the ACC Tournament before. The ACC as a conference has traditionally been that strong, and is once again this year.