DURANGO, Colo. — No. 23 Fort Lewis (14-2-3 overall) rallied for three second half goals to defeat New Mexico Highlands (10-8-1) 3-1 today in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference quarterfinals.
“It’s a classic victory for us,” said fifth-year FLC head coach Damian Clarke. “I think we’ve always been tough when playing from behind. If you don’t score a second goal on us, our kids have always had faith that they can win the game. I was just real proud of the kids.”
The Cowgirls, who have now lost eight straight to Fort Lewis dating back to the 2007 season and who haven’t beaten FLC since 2001 (a stretch that has seen the Skyhawks go 16-0-3 against Highlands), struck quickly.
Casey Rubin won a ball at midfield and played it forward to Julissa Rodriguez, who launched a 45-yard blast into the upper 90 just 1:07 into the game to give NMHU a 1-0 lead. The goal was Rodriguez’s 16th of the season.
Highlands frustrated FLC throughout the first half, outshooting the Skyhawks 10-9 in the frame.
Fort Lewis came out firing on all cylinders early in the second half. Just 38 seconds in, Emma Cannis hand a one-on-one opportunity against NMHU goalkeeper Scottie Prince, but lifted a shot over the crossbar. Three minutes later, Hayley Hollenga had a one-on-one chance from the right side, but sent her shot wide toward the far post. Prince stopped three more shots in the next six minutes before the Skyhawks would finally see their luck change.
That luck came in the form of a Megan Striedel header at 54:38 — off a corner kick by Sara Egbom — to level the score at 1-1. The goal was Striedel’s sixth of the season.
Fort Lewis kept the pressure on in the next 10 minutes. Striedel’s header off a free kick from the left side went wide in the 56th minute. Hollenga sent a shot off the far post a minute later and Egbom’s rebound was saved by Prince.
The Cowgirls had a chance to recapture the lead in the 63rd minute when Janelle McGee was stopped by FLC goalkeeper Amanda Raso on a breakaway. McGee collected her rebound, but sent a shot wide of the frame.
Fifty seconds later, Hollenga struck paydirt after Elena Benavides lobbed a pass over the NMHU defense that Hollenga ran onto, made one touch, and then sent a shot into the side netting for her team-leading tenth goal of the season. Her marker proved to be the game winner, the fourth of the season and 15th of her career.
Cannis, wearing jersey No. 20 after having her nose bloodied earlier in the match, headed in a cross from the left side by Jane Barden at 77:20 to add insurance. The score was Cannis’ ninth of the year.
“Jane was a big help on the second and third goal,” said Clarke. “She put the ball in that came back to Lena that allowed her to play the ball back in to Hayley to get the second goal.”
Barden, a regular starting outside midfielder for the Skyhawks, came off the bench today and added much-needed spark to the FLC attack.
The Skyhawks soundly outshot Highlands by a 14-8 clip in the second half. Shots for the game were 23-18 in FLC’s favor, but shots on target clearly tilted toward FLC, 11-4.
Prince made eight saves for the Cowgirls, while Raso stopped three balls for the Skyhawks.
Fort Lewis will face No. 9 Colorado Mines (14-2-2) at 3:30 p.m. Friday at the Regis Match Pitch in Denver in the RMAC semifinals. The other semifinal pits No. 16 Regis (14-4-0) against the winner of tonight’s quarterfinal game between Colorado Mesa (8-6-4) and Metro State (12-5-1).