Badgers comeback twice to win 6-3 over Rutgers in thrilling Big Ten Quarterfinal
Freshman forward Noah Melick scored twice in the Badgers' 6-3 win over Rutgers as they advanced to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals.Image By: Kalli Anderson and Kalli Anderson
The second-seed Wisconsin Badgers men’s soccer team (6-2-0 Big Ten, 10-5-2 overall) overcame two two-goal deficits and wet conditions to dominate the seventh-seed Rutgers Scarlet Knights (2-6-0, 4-12-1) by a score of 6-3 as they advanced to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals.
The rainy conditions caused a sloppy affair, and Wisconsin had an early scare. Within 15 minutes, goals from Rutgers senior foward Miles Hackett and sophomore defender Brandon Golden put the underdog Scarlet Knights up 2-0 over the Badgers.
While soccer fans and experts joke that 2-0 is the most dangerous lead to hold, UW started to comeback from that scoreline. In the 31st minute, junior midfielder Noah Leibold cut the Scarlet Knight lead in half with a shot at the top of the box that looped behind the hand of senior goalkeeper Rafael Pereira.
“I kinda knew that the wind would stop the ball so I thought I might chip it… it’s a tough shot for any goalie to save when the wind is holding the ball up,” Leibold said.
But seven minutes later, All-Big Ten forward Jordan Hall put a immaculate strike past junior goalkeeper Dean Cowdroy. Hall cut towards the goal and bent a shot bounced in off the right post, giving the Englishman another highlight moment and Wisconsin another two-goal deficit to overcome.
The goals were flying in, and the Badgers managed to score one more in with two minutes left in the first half. Leibold’s corner found the head of freshman defender Zach Klancnik, who missed the goal wide but found the diving head of sophomore defender Patrick Yim to put the Badgers within one before halftime. The timing of that goal was seen as key for UW in mounting the comeback.
“It was absolutely huge,” freshman forward Noah Melick said. “Even if we were down 3-1 we would have still came out with the same power… [Yim] is just crazy in the box, he goes hard… he’ll do anything to get anything out of those set pieces.”
As the second half started, the clock struck 12 for Rutgers’ Cinderella run.
With the wind at their backs, it only took four minutes for the Badgers to tie the game. Senior captain Isaac Schlenker placed a ball into the back of the net with his right foot off of a long throw from Klancnik, leveling the score at 3-3.
After an offsides call disallowed a potential equalizer from Hall, Melick headed in a corner kick from Leibold to make it 4-3. Wisconsin was a threat from corners all game, and the big freshman finally connected to get the game-winner.
“They weren’t marking me on corners, and I was gonna try to punish them, and I finally did,” Melick said.
It didn’t take long for Melick — named to the All-Big Ten Freshman team — to knock in his second of the day, this time unassisted off of a deflection that allowed him to pass the ball into the back right corner of the net past Pereira. It was Melick’s team leading sixth of the season to make it 5-3 for Wisconsin.
The Badgers put the icing on the cake in the 82nd minute, when sophomore Alex Alfaro scored a rebound after a bicycle kick attempt by Melick hit the crossbar. In all, the Badgers had 23 total shots, with 14 of those coming in the second half alone. Rutgers had 10 over the course of the game.
Wisconsin’s offense came alive despite the rainy conditions, and the young forwards are hoping they can carry that momentum to another lengthy Big Ten Tournament run.
“It’s just crazy the amount of talent we have, and we’re so young…we’re just getting started,” said Melick.
Wisconsin will face the Michigan Wolverines (4-2-2, 11-4-2) Friday afternoon in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal in Westfield, Indiana.Subscribe to The Daily Cardinal Newsletter