Boston College women’s soccer trailed by a goal to Clemson late in the second half of Saturday’s Atlantic Coast quarterfinal, but momentum was firmly on its side. Time and time again, the Eagles would push forward, paced by Jenna Bike’s furious runs down the right flank. The crowd was on their side, oohing at each shot that went wide and at every last-ditch Tiger clearance—it seemed inevitable that one of the highest-scoring offenses in the conference would break through with an equalizer.
It never happened, though. In a bizarre final stretch, BC saw what had the potential to be a goal off a corner kick reviewed and upheld as a no goal, a blatant handball from Clemson in the box missed, and several physical tackles in the box not called as penalties.
The final outcome was a frustrating 1-0 defeat for the Eagles (14-4-1, 6-3-1 Atlantic Coast), one that knocked them out of the ACC Tournament and forced them into a waiting game for the NCAA Tournament seedings that come out on Nov. 5.
“You never want to say anything, but I thought there were a couple of times that looked to me … I’ll give them that the ball didn’t go in, but there were four PKs,” head coach Alison Foley said afterward. “We can’t put our lives in the hands of referees—we know that. I thought we had plenty of other opportunities to score. [We] were pushing and had them on their heels.”
The Tigers (12-7, 6-4) pressed early, catching a higher-seeded BC team off guard. They had a steady stream of chances, forcing goalie Alexis Bryant to punch out one cross and snag another. Courtney Jones created space down the right side with her speed on one lengthy run, and then the Tigers switched the field on their next possession and found a wide-open Miranda Weslake. She was able to cut back inside and get a shot off, but it was denied by Gianna Mitchell.
The persistent offensive effort from Clemson eventually paid off in the game’s only goal in the 19th minute. Defender Sam Staab established herself as a deep throw-in threat from the outset, but it was when she mixed it up that BC made a costly defensive mistake. Staab, throwing from the left sideline, went short and found freshman forward Brooke Power, who quickly sent a pass back and made a run. Bike, caught between the two, attempted to close the passing lane, but Staab’s one-time led Power to the end line. Tracking the ball, she caught up to it and sent a left-footed cross that slipped over over a leaping Kayla Duran and was promptly headed in by Mariana Speckmaier—the sophomore’s 10th goal on the season.
“They do one thing really, really well and it’s a long throw,” Foley said about the space Staab and Power had to work with. “We got caught out on it. You can know it’s coming, but it’s difficult to defend.”
After the goal, though, Clemson seemed content to sit back and defend. The Eagles started to push forward on offense, but something was clearly missing. The Tigers denied Sam Coffey any space, allowing her to receive the pass but preventing any movement with it. Coffey was forced to dump the ball off much higher up on the pitch than the ACC’s leader in assists usually does, and the offense stagnated. Olivia Vaughn made long runs, but time and time again, the ball was poked away in the final third, or she couldn’t catch up to a errant through ball. BC’s offense throughout the year has been speed-oriented, but it struggled to find any gaps in the Clemson defense.
The final few minutes of the half revealed the Eagles team that would return after the break, though. Jillian Jennings nearly scored on a diving header after Coffey perfectly dropped a pass behind the defense on a free kick taken from near the half. When BC returned, it picked up where it left off. Bike was the primary creator of chances, earning a couple of corners with defense-stretching runs up the right side, then she nearly connected on a diving header next to Clemson goalie Sandy MacIver. It was an impressive performance from the junior, who followed up a three-assist day against Pittsburgh with a similar outpouring of crosses and chances.
Bike wasn’t able to find a goal, however, and neither was BC. The Eagles had plenty of looks, but their 19-6 edge in shots was ultimately rendered meaningless. Bike was tripped up in the box in the final few minutes, as was Gaby Carreiro, and while both pleaded for a call, referee John Brady’s whistle stayed quiet. It was a disappointing exit from the conference tournament for Foley’s squad, especially as it dropped its first home game after going a perfect 11-0 in the regular season.
All isn’t lost, though, as 19th-ranked BC is all but assured a spot in the field of 64 for the upcoming NCAA tournament. It’s surely a tough pill to swallow for Foley and the Eagles, who haven’t had a conference tournament win since 2010, but they’ll likely host a first-round game in the sport’s most prestigious event. That’s consolation enough for an overall strong year of conference play.
Featured Image by Keith Carroll / Heights Editor