COLUMBUS, Ohio No. 2 seed Purdue won its first Big Ten Conference Tournament championship by defeating No. 5 Ohio State, 3-1, Sunday at the University of Minnesota’s Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium.
The Boilermakers, 19-2-2, gain the Big Ten’s automatic berth into the NCAA Women’s Soccer Championship by virtue of its win. Coach Lori Walker’s Buckeyes, 12-9-1 and making a statement by advancing to the championship game, will have to wait until 8 p.m. Monday to learn their NCAA fate.
“I think our goal was to be playing our best soccer at the end of the season and I feel we are doing that right now,” Walker said. “I think the experience gained at the tournament is very important for our young players.
“I also think that bookend Big Ten championship games for these seniors as freshmen and now as seniors is a nice tribute to them and it gives us an opportunity to go into the NCAA Tournament with some confidence.”
Purdue led 2-0 at halftime with goals by Kira Bilecky and Jessica Okoroafo in the 8th- and 22nd- minutes, respectively. Shauna Stapleton sent a left-footed corner kick into the box that Bilecky headed into the goal after first deflecting off Lauren Robertson’s right hand and then the goal post for a 1-0 Purdue lead.
Two minutes later Robertson kept a dangerous one-on-one situation from developing by coming quickly off the line after some nice passing and footwork by the Boilermakers nearly sprung Loredana Riverso, who had three shots on goal in the half.
At the 22-minute mark Robertson skied and punched a drive from 18-yards over the goal. She then smacked the ensuing corner kick out of trouble to keep it a one-goal game.
But Purdue kept the pressure on and at the 20-minute mark its efforts were rewarded as Jessica Okoroafo sent a left-footed drive from 18-yards into the upper right corner of the net for a 2-0 lead. Stapleton set this goal up as well with a nice right-to-left pass.
Robertson came up with a huge save at the 16:19 mark, stopping Riverso, who was one-on-one with Robertson from about 16 yards. Robertson dove to her left to smother the shot.
Ohio State’s best opportunity came with eight minutes to play in the half. On the Purdue side of the field, Lisa Collison found Lara Dickenmann, who sent a left-footed through-pass to Emily Esbrook along the upper left side of the 18-yard box. Esbrook was able to get her foot on the ball but Purdue goalkeeper Jenny Bradfisch was charging and slid to immediately stop the effort.
The second half was moving along with neither team getting much of an offensive attack going, but 20 minutes in Purdue’s Felicia Schroeder was run over in the box from behind by an Ohio State defender and a penalty kick was awarded. Schroeder left the field after falling hard and Jordyn Shaffer took the penalty kick. Robertson came up big for the Buckeyes yet again, diving to her left to make a critical save on a low liner and keeping the score at 2-0.
The importance of that save took on a new meaning as Ohio State scored four minutes later. Dickenmann sent a corner kick into the box that was headed by Courtney Jenkins. The ball bounced and Caitlin Colfer was there to blast the ball from about three feet off the ground into the upper part of the net.
Purdue came right back. Riverso, impressive on the field all day, finally came though with a goal for the Boilers, heading in a shot in the 16th minute for a 3-1 advantage.
With just over six minutes to play Dickenmann chased down a ball along the left side and sent a cross that was headed by Colfer. Bradfisch was in perfect position for the save. She also was in position to make a save on an 18-yard shot by Collison with just over a minute to play.
The waiting now begins for the Buckeyes for word of their fourth NCAA tournament berth and first since the 2004 season. Ohio State has a resume that includes nine games against teams in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) top 20. The RPI can be a key determining factor for determining the 34 at-large teams into the tournament.
“I don’t know how much the RPI will play into the NCAA Tournament committee’s selections this year,” Walker said. “We beat the RPI’s No. 18 and tied its No. 1 at this tournament, so I’m hoping it is just a matter of who we play and where and not if. We’ve done what we needed to do. We are a quality team that deserves to be in.”
Ohio State Notes: