On paper Thursday night's women's soccer game between the 5-6-6 (3-4-5 Big Ten) Maryland Terrapins and the Big Ten Champion 16-2 (11-1 B1G) Penn State Nittany Lions looked every bit like it was set up to be another step in Penn State's march to a possible top seed in the NCAA Tournament. And, stop me if you've heard this before, Penn State did indeed march through the Terps by a 1-0 final.
First Half - One brief lapse, one long deficit
Penn State head coach Erica Walsh elected to give freshman midfielder Haleigh Echard her first start of the year and, with the return of Erika Nelson, Maryland coach Jonathan Morgan could return Shade Pratt to forward after needing her to start in the back in Maryland's last game against Wisconsin.
Although the Terps managed the game's first corner kick just five minutes or so in, the Nittany Lions controlled both the time of possession and the pace of play throughout the half. Early on, neither team was able to generate much in the way of scoring threats but Penn State kept Maryland's defense spread out with a wide shape, quick passing, and excellent team speed.
In the tenth minute, Penn State's Emily Hurd took a throw in and and got inside Amanda Gerlitz. Nelson crossed from the right and forced Hurd into a difficult angle on her shot from ten yards that goalkeeper Rachelle Beanlands deflected wide.
Pratt managed the Terrapins first shot of the game in the 12th minute. Working her way into a bit of space between two Nittany Lions defenders, she turned and drilled a shot from about 15 yards that barely moved Penn State keeper Britt Eckerstrom. No goal.
As has happened all too often, one brief lapse on defense left Beanlands in an untenable position. In the 25th minute Penn State's leading goal scorer Frannie Crouse out fought Kayla Shea for a ball in space just outside the 18 yard box. She used her speed to get behind Shea and into a one on one situation with Beanlands who had to come far off her line. Crouse took her shot from about 12 yards and Beanlands managed to get one gloved hand on the ball but it deflected off the inside of the near post and trickled into the goal giving the home team a 1-0 lead they comfortably held into halftime.
Second half - a bit more Terrapins aggression but...
The Terps came out of the locker room and opened the second half with some fire and physicality in their game. What they lacked, however was execution. While they again picked up an early corner kick and managed a small number of shots none particularly threatened a Penn State team that was consistently well positioned and content to defend and shorten the game.
As the half wore on and Maryland began to push forward a bit, some opportunities opened for Penn State counter attacks. The Nittany Lions put the Terps' defense under enormous pressure for a stretch of six minutes or so and had a series of chances to pick up a second goal. However, Beanlands and the defense remained solid and kept the Terps within one.
Maryland had a final golden chance in the 81st minute when Penn State was whistled for a foul just outside the right side of the box about nine yards above the goal. Once again, the Terps doomed themselves with poor execution and failed to get a shot on goal on either the free kick or the ensuing corner kick.
The game clock ticked down and just before 9:00 pm eastern time, the result became official and Maryland's regular season ended with a third consecutive 1-0 loss.
Though they need some help, the Terrapins are still alive for the eighth and final spot in the Big Ten Tournament despite all their struggles. The Terps and their fans will need to watch the outcome of three games on Friday when Minnesota visits Northwestern, Ohio State hosts Rutgers, and Iowa travels to Nebraska. In all three games, a win or a tie by the visiting team will allow Maryland to cling to eighth place. Should all three games turn out in Maryland's favor, the Terps will have an immediate rematch with Penn State on the 5th of November in the second B1G Tournament quarterfinal game to be played at Purdue.