The Rutgers women’s soccer team began play in the program’s ninth consecutive NCAA Tournament on Tuesday night in Buies Creek, North Carolina. They faced Southland Conference Tournament champion Southeastern Louisiana, who hadn’t lost in its last eleven matches and had allowed just one goal in the previous eight games. However, the Scarlet Knights were relentless all night in putting pressure on the Lady Lions defense and All-American Amirah Ali scored the game winning goal in the closing minutes of the contest.
Rutgers attacked from the opening minute on and held a commanding 9-1 shot advantage and 5-1 edge in corner kicks in the first half. However, Southeastern Louisiana’s goalkeeper Nadine Maher made six saves in the opening frame to keep it scoreless at the half.
The Scarlet Knights continued to control the game after the break and almost took the lead in the 80th minute when Becci Fluchel’s shot went off the crossbar. SLU was able turn it upfield quickly to get a shot on goal in transition, but goalkeeper Meagan McClelland kept the game scoreless with a save.
It was soon after in the 87th minute that Rutgers finally broke through and it was appropriate it was Ali who found the back of the net. A pair of freshman set the play up as Fluchel made a cross that led to a shot by Allison Lowrey that was saved by Maher with a block. Ali was there to take advantage of the rebound and put the game away with the 14th game winning goal of her Rutgers career.
“We were pressing the team from the start, we had a lot of good chances on the net. Their goalkeeper is a very good player,” said Ali. “Our grit going towards goal [led to the score]. Becci hit a good ball in, Allie got a good shot in. It was saved, but I just knew I had to be there for my team. I rushed the goalkeeper and got a shot off.”
Ali scored her seventh goal of the season and she now has 32 goals on the banks, placing her fifth all-time in program history.
Rutgers dominated the stats by holding a 20-2 advantage in shots in the game, as well as 10-2 in shots on goal. The Scarlet Knights have held all 15 opponents to single digit shot attempts this season. RU also held a 9-1 advantage in corner kicks in the game.
“What you can expect from our team is that grit, that passion, that dedication to win. We haven’t gone to a second round since 2017, so this year we aren’t stopping here. We are going to keep pushing,” said Ali. “We have a lot of people back at home cheering for us, rooting for us. We are doing it for them as well. We have to remain confident in our abilities. And understanding we are playing against good teams, but we are just as good as any of the teams in the NCAA Tournament. Having that confidence in ourselves.”
The Scarlet Knights have now won an NCAA Tournament First Round game for the fifth time in seven straight appearances under head coach Mike O’Neill. The program is now 13-10-6 all-time in NCAA Tournament play.
No. 22 Rutgers will now take on No. 6 Clemson in the Second Round on Friday, April 30 at 7 p.m. ET. The game will also take place in Buies Creek, North Carolina and will air live on ESPN3. We’ll have a game preview ahead of Friday night’s matchup. Below is the updated NCAA Tournament bracket following Tuesday’s first round games.