New Mexico Highlands scored on its first shot. It took Fort Lewis College a bit longer.
Julissa Rodriguez, now a two-time Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Player of the Year in womens soccer, tucked a shot from about 45 yards out under the crossbar just 1:07 into the RMAC Tournament quarterfinal at Dirks Field, giving the No. 6 seed Cowgirls an early 1-0 lead.
No. 23 FLC, seeded third in the conference tournament, responded with a bevy of chances, with shots sailing over the crossbar and off the post. When Megan Striedels header off a Sara Egbom corner found the net in the 55th minute, the gates finally opened for the Skyhawks, and the Cowgirls couldnt close em again.
Fort Lewis got goals from Hayley Hollenga and Emma Cannis to break the tie, advancing to the RMAC semifinals with a 3-1 victory over N.M. Highlands on Wednesday.
Once (the defense) got it worked out, we were tight, FLC head coach Damian Clarke said of how his side responded after the early goal.
Highlands (10-8-1) nearly took the lead again in the 64th minute. Janelle McGee, the RMAC Freshman of the Year, broke free on goal from the right side, but FLC goalkeeper Amanda Raso made perhaps her biggest save of the season, charging out near the top of the penalty area and snuffing McGees shot, and Madyson Wellcome helped Raso from allowing a rebound attempt.
Amanda kept us in the game. That very well could have been a different hill to climb, Clarke said.
After exhaling, the Skyhawks got back to work peppering the Highlands net. Elena Benavides lobbed a pass over the defense to an open Hollenga in the 65th minute, and Hollenga didnt miss, firing a shot from the right side of the penalty area into the net to give FLC (14-2-3) the lead.
Jane Barden, whose first-half header clanged off the post, combined with Cannis to seal the deal in the 78th minute. Barden played a gorgeous cross to a wide-open Cannis on the right side, and the sophomore striker headed it inside the near post from about four yards out to put the game away.
I usually start, so that was different, coming off the bench. And its my last year, so its kind of important to win right now, Barden said. I owe it to myself and, more importantly, the other girls to give them everything.
Barden responded with one of her best efforts of the season after being benched at the start of the game in favor of freshman Sam Weiss. She helped provide a spark in the midfield that allowed FLC to maintain a strong possession advantage and get the better of the scoring opportunities in the second half. FLC won the shots-on-goal battle 11-4.
The play from Jane on the left side was what helped us create those two goals to basically go ahead and get the third goal, Clarke said. It was a tough decision (to sit Barden), but I think it was the right one. This is one of the best games of her career.
Step 1 in FLCs quest to land the RMAC Tournament title is complete. With Colorado Mines, Regis and Fort Lewis holding the top three spots in the Central Region, NCAA Tournament host duties likely will come down to whoever comes out as the tourney champ.
To get to that point, however, FLC will have to get through No. 2 seed Colorado School of Mines on Friday in Denver. The Orediggers handed the Skyhawks their most humbling defeat a 4-0 loss Oct. 7 in Golden. Its a rematch Barden said the Skyhawks have been clamoring for for a month.
We really want to play them again, because last game I feel like we ... didnt prove ourselves. This is our opportunity to prove it, she said.