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Archive for October, 2011

NEWTON, Mass. — Boston College’s reward for earning the biggest win of the season by spending two hours in a frigid rain that ceased only when it turned to snow Thursday night? A chance to do it all over again Sunday afternoon.

To borrow a thought from Alec Baldwin, it beats a set of steak knives.

Behind first-half goals from Gibby Wagner and Julia Bouchelle and a strong defensive effort throughout, No. 21 Boston College defeated No. 7 Wake Forest 2-0 to edge the Demon Deacons for fourth place in the ACC final standings. As a result, the Eagles earned the right to host the Demon Deacons on Sunday in an ACC tournament quarterfinal instead of flying south to Wake’s home turf.

The setting at Newton Soccer Field started to take on a Bing Crosby-Burl Ives holiday feel as the snow fell more rapidly late in the game, and after four consecutive one-goal losses that dropped the Eagles from title contention to the middle of the table, closing the regular season with the win against the Demon Deacons and one five days earlier against NC State provided a much needed gift.

“You never like to talk about postseason,” coach Alison Foley said. “But we needed to win the last two games because it would set us up in such a great situation for postseason, both ACC tournament and NCAA tournament.”

They couldn’t have asked for a better script. Even with freshman center back Casey Morrison nursing a hamstring injury that led her to sit out the first half Thursday, Boston College can defend as well as any team in the ACC or the nation (the Eagles entered the game 14th nationally in goals-against average, one spot behind Boston University). The problem has been that it’s difficult to win 0-0 games.

Only once all season has Boston College allowed more than one goal, a 3-2 loss at Miami, but it had also scored multiple goals just eight times in 16 games prior to Thursday and watched its offensive output tumble from 2.04 goals per game last season to 1.69 goals per game this season.

So if Wagner’s goal in the 11th minute off an assist from Victoria DiMartino was a bonus, representing the earliest the Eagles had gotten on the scoreboard through the entire conference season, Bouchelle’s goal in the 32nd minute off an assist from Stephanie McCaffrey was about as unexpected a turn of events as the thunder that accompanied the snow later in the evening. But that two-goal cushion, well earned by the Eagles, particularly Gibson Wagner, aggressively pressing the issue in the Demon Deacons’ end of the field, allowed the defense breating room to do its job.

And do its job it did. The ACC is full of talented goal scorers and creative playmakers, but Wake Forest presents a unique challenge with forwards Katie Stengel and Rachel Nuzzolese. Both are big, agile attackers who can beat defenders with the ball at their feet or test keepers from distance, as Nuzzolese did in forcing Boston College keeper Jillian Mastroianni to come up with a fantastic save on a potential game-tying strike headed just under the crossbar in the first half. Yet that effort was about the only time either Nuzzolese, who has eight goals on the season, or Stengel, a Hermann Trophy candidate who leads the conference with 13 goals in 16 games, threatened the goal.

“I give a lot of credit to our back line,” Foley said. “We watched a lot of film on Stengel and Nuzzolese. We talked about their tendencies. We talked about the importance of staying engaged on Stengel and [holding midfielder] Kate McCarthy coming down and doubling down and giving good cover when one center back steps with her. We never wanted any space; we always wanted someone to step with her every time she went for the ball.”

As much as the goals set the tone, the effort of the match was turned in by Boston College senior center back Alyssa Pember. Sidelined earlier this season by an ankle injury that leaves her managing pain more than waiting for a clean bill of health, Pember seemed connected at the hip with Stengel any time the latter came near the ball.

“I thought Pember did a great job,” Foley said. “She orchestrated the defense back there, and I thought she was really good.”

Boston College has shown itself to be a very good team with a very erratic finishing touch this season, a combination bound to lead to frustration at times. The Eagles aren’t necessarily any better than a respectable record indicates (and finishing fourth is an accomplishment in a league where the ninth-place team that misses the conference tournament, Miami, is No. 24 in NCAA RPI), but they have every reason to believe that but for a break here or a break there, 1-0 losses against both Duke and North Carolina could have gone the other way and left them alone in first place. That’s the peril of being a team that relies on defense.

“It’s funny, we beat UNC down at UNC 3-2 [last year], but when we lost here 1-0, this was a much better game for us, believe it or not,” Foley said of last week’s loss to the Tar Heels. “But results are results at this time of the year. It’s really nice when you can play as well as we played tonight and get the result.”

So nice that they’ll do it again in a couple of days with a trip to Cary, N.C. and the semifinals on the line.

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