With the losses of Katie Stengel and Rachel Nuzzolese, the Wake Forest women's soccer team has suffered some significant growing pains on offense in recent games. Tonight proved another challenge, as the Deacs took until late in the second half to put away the last-place Pitt Panthers at frigid Spry Stadium.
Taylor Waters came off the bench to open the scoring, and her play with Riley Ridgik created both other Wake goals, with Ally Berry scoring the eventual game-winner and Ridgik adding an insurance goal late within the last ten minutes.
The first half was a sloppy affair. Wake's defense proved resolute and shut down any and all Pitt attacks from the run of play, but Wake's linkup play between striker Ridgik and the attacking midfield left a lot to be desired. Indeed, Pitt actually had the best chance of the half in the 37th minute, when Aubrey Bledsoe misplayed a corner kick and was unable to clear the ball out of danger. The ball fell to Morgan Sharick, whose desperate attempt to redirect the ball toward the goal hit the crossbar. Wake's best chances also came from corners, as Pitt looked shoddy defending and allowed several free Wake headers that either missed the target or went straight at goalie Taylor Francis.
After halftime, the Deacs looked more energized. Ridgik nearly put Wake in front a minute into the second period when her touch of a low Jackie McSally cross edged just wide of the near post. Waters also had a golden opportunity shortly thereafter, dispossessing a Panther defender on the wing and going through on goal, but a strange touch to the side left her with no option but to cross unsuccessfully.
The breakthrough came in the 59th minute. A quick Deacon counterattack from the midfield played Ridgik into space in the box, and her ball to the penalty spot found an open Waters, who finished authoritatively low and to the far post.
To the shock of everyone, Pitt answered 10 minutes later in its first foray into attack in the half. Alex Charbelois got the ball down the right flank, and from a severe angle lofted what was likely intended as a cross that instead floated over a backpedaling Bledsoe's head into the far netting for 1-1.
The Deacs pushed forward looking for a game-winner, and they got it from Berry in the 82nd minute. Waters cut from the wing back into the middle of the field, and then played a diagonal ball on the ground to Ridgik at the top of the 18 yard box. Ridgik alertly let the ball pass between her legs, fooling the entire defense as Ally Berry beat her marker to the ball from the other side of the box and put the ball past Francis into the corner. While Ridgik was not credited with an assist (she never actually touched the ball), it was her head's up play that created the space behind the defense for Berry.
After setting up the first two goals, Ridgik iced the game with one of her own in the 84th minute. Waters met a low Kendall Fischlein cross with a thumping shot from 6 yards that was cleared off the line by a Panther defender, but Ridgik swooped in to toe poke the ball into the net before any Pitt player could react. It was, in the parlance of soccer talk, a true striker's goal, which proves that Ridgik has indeed matured into a capable center forward (as if her 8 goals on the season wasn't a sign of that by itself).
Lastly, I want to give credit to Pitt for their play in this game. They came in 0-10-0 in conference, with no hope of making the ACC Tournament. They could have done what so many underdog teams have done before and put as many players behind the ball as possible. Instead, they attacked in spots, their midfield did an excellent job limiting space and forcing Wake players into bad passes, and they defended resolutely when they had to. Even though they were outshot 29-6, they kept the game within doubt until the very end. If they can maintain their discipline going forward, they may prove to be a tough out in upcoming ACC seasons. While they may not have deserved to win tonight, they definitely deserve to applauded for their incredible effort.
- Aubrey Bledsoe tied the school record for starts in a career tonight, tying the mark of 89 set by Jackie Logue last season. Bledsoe was also named one of 10 finalists for the Senior CLASS Award, presented to athletes who also excel in class and in the community.
- A win is a win, I suppose, but this one leaves a lot to be desired. Maybe it was the cold (it was really, really cold out there), but the effort put forth for a lot of the game was pretty lackadaisical from the Deacs. They will have to be much better to beat #5 UNC on Sunday (1 p.m. at Spry Stadium). (I have a wedding to go to this weekend; I hope to be back for the game, but there is a chance you might not get a recap. Just a head's up.)
- I didn't mention this in the men's recap for the Davidson game, but the men's soccer team plays at Duke on Friday night, and then is home for what could be essentially an ACC regular season championship game against Notre Dame on November 2. The Deacs and Irish are currently tied for first with identical 5-0-3 conference records (18 points), while Maryland lurks at 4-1-3 (15 points) after the Deacs' 4-3 win in College Park last weekend.