In a game where the Slippery Rock women’s soccer team could have sat back and let Shippensburg University run them over, The Rock battled to a 1-0 victory Saturday afternoon in front of a spirited Senior Night crowd.
Senior forwards Skye Kramer, Brooke Testa and Julianna Esposito, midfielder Emily Aldridge, defender Sarah Blue and goalkeeper Kylie Downs were honored before the game for their contributions to Rock women’s soccer.
Already having clinched a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference playoff berth earlier in the week, the Green and White faced an aggressive Raiders’ squad – that had nothing left to lose – that pushed The Rock all afternoon, especially late in the contest with a blitz of dangerous chances.
Fittingly, Downs stood tall in net with a couple miraculous saves late in the second half to clinch her eighth shutout of the season and the 20th of her storied career.
“At practice, we always practice different scenarios,” Downs said. “If you’re winning one to nothing, you have got to close out the game and that’s what we did. We tried to keep it on the ground and play it to the corner, slow down the clock and just get the win at the end.”
Not tested in the first, Downs made three saves in the second. The senior ‘keeper made one of the PSAC Save of the Season candidates in the 89th minute. Raiders’ forward Izzy Weigel sent a shot on net from just outside the 18-yard box which forced Downs to stretch to full body length and knock the ball away with just her fingertips. The ball ricocheted high into the air and the backspin on the ball would have carried it into the net if not for Downs catching it to end the chance and cement her shutout.
“That one [89th minute save] … absolutely wow,” head coach Jessica Griggs exclaimed. “There is a reason why we have as many shutouts in a season as we have. It’s because she loves to carry the team on her back and I’m really proud of her for it. She’s definitely big in big moments and I’m just so proud of her.”
Forced to deal with the physical play from the Raiders all game long, The Rock struck early in the match with the game winner.
Testa intercepted a Raiders’ clearance in the 6th minute and corralled the ball near the midfield line. The senior points leader played a beautiful through ball 40 yards forward for freshman midfielder Jordyn Minda. Minda’s perfectly timed run saw her dash through the Raiders’ defense, collect the ball and dribble around the Raider’s goalkeeper before potting the ball into the open net.
Minda’s sixth goal of the season proved to be the game-winner – her fourth of the season – and allowed her to retake the team lead in goals.
While Griggs said the team struggled with the Raiders’ physical play, she acknowledged how proud she was of the team’s resilience, especially the play of her senior leaders.
Finishing the regular season with 32 points – good enough for a top six finish in the past two seasons – locked The Rock in the eighth seed. Finishing the season with five consecutive wins to reach 10 PSAC victories to only clinch the eighth seed shows the competitiveness in the conference this season.
A stout defense became the calling card for The Rock this season as Downs, freshman goalkeeper Emma Yoder and The Rock defense allowed just 13 goals in 18 matches which was good for fourth in the PSAC. The Green and White was one of only four teams in the conference to allow fewer than a goal a game.
With a 12-4-2 (10-4-2 PSAC) record, The Rock reached 10 wins for the 21st straight season and their 12 wins are the second most of Griggs’ career at The Rock.
The Rock will look to avenge a 3-1 defeat – their worst loss of the season – to PSAC regular season winner No. 18 Bloomsburg University Tuesday afternoon in the first round of the PSAC Tournament at 1 p.m.
Ranked fifth in the latest Atlantic Region rankings from the NCAA, the Green and White currently sit inside the list of six teams from the Atlantic region to qualify for the NCAA D-II Tournament. An away win over No. 1 seed Bloomsburg would almost surely cement The Rock’s place in their first NCAA Tournament since 2013.