Oct. 31, 2012
Final Box Score | Conference USA Tournament Central
EL PASO, Texas (SMU) - Rachael Larson, Rikki Clarke and Shelby Redman all scored as the SMU Mustangs beat the second-seeded Rice Owls 3-1 to advance to the Conference USA Tournament semifinals on Wednesday.
Rice (11-7-3) was on the attack for a good portion of the opening stages of the game, but SMU's back line stood strong all half. The Mustangs (9-7-4) opened the scoring at the 42 minute mark when Larson got her head on a corner kick from Mallory Baum. Larson managed to tuck the ball just off the underside of the crossbar, giving SMU the lead and a morale boost that lingered throughout the game.
The Mustangs came out of halftime with vigor, attacking down both sides well. Kenzie Scovill earned a corner kick with an aggressive attack down the left side, and Olivia Elliott did the same a few minutes later down the right. SMU's aggressive nature was rewarded at the 65th minute. Courtney Smith threw the ball into Redman at the near post, who redirected the ball to the opposite corner of the box to Clarke. Clarke made a terrific first touch with her left foot that got her into some open space, then the sophomore finished the sequence with a lovely left-footed ball into the lower-left side of the net.
Clarke credited her strong second half to Head Coach Chris Petrucelli's comments at halftime.
"He took a lot of us aside, me individually, and he said that I needed to pick it up," Clarke, who was named Second Team All-C-USA on Tuesday, said. "I came out in the second half and tried to pick it up. I thought we did a really good job in the second half."
Rice was able to answer back in the 67th minute when Holly Hargreaves picked up a rebound in front of goal and drilled it home. Lauryn Bodden saved an initial shot by Lauren Hughes, but could not control the ball.
Just three minutes later, however, Redman responded after Elliott fed her at the far post, giving Redman plenty of room to fire one home to extend SMU's lead back to two goals.
With three different scorers on Wednesday evening, Coach Petrucelli was satisfied about his offense. However, he was most excited about how his defense played.
"All year long I've said I felt we had a number of people that could score, but the credit tonight goes to the defense," Petrucelli said. "Last time we played (Rice), we gave up three goals. We needed to shut down a team that exposed us in the past. The real credit goes to that back four that played extremely well."
The defensive mindset displayed by SMU differed from its usual offensively-focused attitude. Each Mustang defender marked their opposition well all game, rarely giving the Owls any room to operate.
"We played differently than we have all season," Petrucelli said. "We played more conservatively. Coming into it, I felt like we could score. The big key was keeping them off the board.
"We fought really hard. I don't know that it was pretty, but this time of the year it's more about being effective, and I thought we were really effective."
Rice was the No. 2 seed in the tournament, but the two teams held similar positions in the latest RPI rankings. The Owls are No. 62, and SMU is No. 69. SMU will take on the third-seeded UCF Knights in the semifinals. SMU defeated a then-No. 8 UCF squad in Orlando by a score of 2-1 on Oct. 7. The Mustangs are looking for their first appearance in the C-USA title game in school history.
"We're really confident," Clarke said. "We always have trouble with Rice, but we got past them and we're ready to play."
Twice before the Mustangs have been eliminated in the semifinals; in 2006 SMU lost 4-1 to Colorado College and in 2010 UCF upended the Mustangs 2-0. Kickoff for Friday is scheduled for 7 p.m. MT.