Sophomore Nicolette Radovcic (Rockaway, N.J.) registered her first-career multi-goal game to guide the UCF women’s soccer team to a 2-1 win over Fresno State in the NCAA Tournament First Round Thursday in Los Angeles. The No. 4-seeded Knights (15-4-3) advanced to the Second Round for the fourth-straight season where they will face the host UCLA Bruins Saturday at 10 p.m. ET. UCLA stayed alive by edging BYU in penalty kicks after playing to a 0-0 tie.
“After having to sit and wait through overtime and the shootout between UCLA and BYU, we didn’t get to start our match until midnight Eastern time,” said head coach Amanda Cromwell. “Our players were mentally strong though. We didn’t necessarily play our cleanest game, but we played hard for 90 minutes.
“Nicolette struggled early on in the year to find the net, but as of late she has come on really strong. We also created a lot of other chances that we didn’t finish tonight, and we have to remember that getting that third goal in a game like this would have been huge because Fresno State scored and it made the last 10 minutes very interesting. Against a team like UCLA we might not get as many quality chances so we’re going to have to finish better on Saturday.”
Radovcic started the year without a goal in her first 15 matches, but entered Thursday with a goal in four of her last six outings. Her impressive stretch continued against Fresno State as she tallied both of the Knights’ goals vs. the Bulldogs (9-9-5).
“We played for our seniors today and it was definitely a game where we grinded it out,” said Radovcic. “I’ll be honest my first goal was a little lucky, but the second was a better finish. At halftime the coaches just told us to play our game and have fun. We were too tense in the first half and playing hot-potato with the ball. We were able to calm down in the second half and we played a lot better.”
The Knights did not give up a corner all match and finished with an 18-6 lead in shots. Radovcic led all players with seven shots including five on goal. In net, Aline Reis posted three saves for the win.
With a start around midnight ET and 9 p.m. on the West Coast, UCF did not look tired early on, with Stacie Hubbard and Tishia Jewell both placing shots on goal in the first nine minutes although FSU keeper Kaitlyn Revel made the same both times.
Thanks to a little momentum, the Knights kept at it and ultimately grabbed the 1-0 lead in the 13th minute. After Radovcic watched her shot be turned away by a Bulldog defender, it went straight out to Ashley Nicol outside the box. The freshman fired a one-timer on net that was deflected to Radovcic in front, and she quickly blasted in her fifth goal of the year.
Following the goal, Fresno State started to threaten to get on the board as well but was unable to get a shot on goal. The next best chance of the half came on a UCF free kick in the 41st minute, and Christina Petrucco sent a perfect ball in for Brianna Schooley however her shot from midair sailed just high.
Even though the Black and Gold held an 11-2 advantage in shots after 45 minutes, it was losing a step at the end of the first half. That soon changed after a break with the coaches, and when the second half began, the Knights immediately pushed their lead to 2-0.
Off a throw-in on the left side by Kim Newsome, Bianca Joswiak was called in to receive it and she was wide open. With plenty of time, she delivered a cross far-post to Radovcic who calmly settled it down before hitting the back of the net for the second time of the evening in the 48th minute.
UCF had several other chances to make it 3-0, but it was FSU that got on the board next as Vanessa Gonzalez sent in a long-distance looping shot that got over Reis in the 76th minute.
Now with just a one-goal cushion again, UCF did not panic and would not allow the Bulldogs to have another good look at the net for the rest of the match.
With the First-Round victory, UCF now will be searching for its first trip past the Second Round since its memorable journey to the Final Four in 1987 when it takes on UCLA Saturday.
“I really like our team. I was very proud of our players in dealing with some of the adversity concerning the external factors like the time change, the travel and the match before ours going into overtime,” said associate head coach Colby Hale. “Even though we’re the seeded team, I don’t think there are a lot of people who expect us to have a chance on Saturday. UCLA has been to seven-straight Final Fours, and their streak is on the line so the pressure is all on them. So we are going to go out, work hard and see what happens.”