TEMPE, Ariz. — A knee to the face and a bloody nose couldn't prevent Samantha Falasco from being the hero in a heated rivalry game.
The freshman defender returned from injury in the second half and recorded the game's only goal, propelling Arizona soccer to a 1-0 win over ASU on Friday afternoon at Sun Devil Soccer Stadium.
It was Falasco’s first goal as an Arizona Wildcat.
"It's honestly one of the most amazing feelings ever," Falasco said. "Every game coming in for a set piece, I'm like 'oh my gosh, I want to score, I want to score', but [wasn't] able to, and then finally coming in for our last game and our rivalry game [I finally did]."
Falasco exited the game in the first half after being in a collision, but came back and headed in a corner kick from Cali Crisler in the 65th minute, even with her face throbbing in pain.
"I just ran up, jumped, and headed it and it went right between the goalie’s hands in the corner,” Falasco said. "The goal definitely hurt me.”
The moment was a microcosm of Falasco's season. The defender had been battling through injury all season, yet has managed to make an impact on Arizona’s backline nonetheless.
“I think it’s great for Sam, because she’s been hurt all year, she hasn’t been 100 percent healthy, showed huge potential and she showed right there what she’s made of," Arizona head coach Tony Amato said. "She got hurt, came back, and scored the goal. She’s going to be a really good player in this league for the next three years.”
Falasco's goal allowed the Wildcats to escape with the Territorial Cup point, despite being outplayed in the first half.
In the 31st minute, a pin-point pass by Natalie Stephens put Jessica Raybe in a one-on-one with UA goalkeeper Lainey Burdett.
But Burdett, who finished with five saves and her seventh shutout of the season, won the battle, coming off her line to break up the play.
Later in the half, a free kick from 30 yards out by ASU’s Lucy Lara slammed off the post. Another close call for the Sun Devils.
“I didn’t think we played great in the first half, I thought ASU had the better of the chances,” Amato said. “Gabi [Stoian] got the ball up high a few times, but for the most part I thought they had the upper-hand in the first half. We talked at halftime about putting that aside, finding a way to regroup and grind it out in the second half, and, to the girls' credit, to battle and find a goal on the set piece and come up with a win here was huge.”
Arizona outshot ASU 7-5 in the first half, but ASU finished with 12 shots to Arizona’s 11.
The Sun Devils put together a flurry of scoring chances in the final moments of the game, including a volley off a corner kick that went wide as time expired, but the Wildcats were able to hold on.
"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous,” Amato said. “You get caught up in coaching in the moment, but there were some dicey moments there, and we were able to get out with the win."
The victory means the Wildcats will finish the season with a 9-9-1 record overall, going 4-7 in the Pac-12 Conference, and on a two-game winning streak. But, it won’t be enough to make the NCAA Tournament.
"We ended the best we could,” Amato said. “We beat Cal, beat ASU, won nine games. The goal and the standard now is to make the NCAA Tournament and I'm glad that's the standard. We don't feel great about Selection Monday happening and we're not going to be a part of it, but we did our best to win as many games as we could this year, and the lesson is going to be that if we have two more wins, we're probably in.
"But to get nine wins, end on beating a ranked team and then coming up here and beating our rival, is at least a way to finish strong."
It was Arizona’s first win over ASU since 2013.
“It’s always a battle. We’re playing for more than just a normal game," midfielder Jaden DeGracie-Bailey said. "We’re playing for our pride, and our team did that. This was not our prettiest game, I’ll admit that, but we won and who cares how the ball goes in the net, or how you win as long as you win. And we did.”
The winningest senior class in school history—tallying 43 victories in four years—added one more win in their final game as Wildcats.
“I first thought about winning and then I thought, ‘wow, what a way to go out,’” DeGracie-Bailey said. “There’s no better feeling.”
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