The Arizona Wildcats knew they were going to have to slow down Deyna Castellanos to beat fourth-seeded Florida State, but that proved to be easier said than done.
The sophomore forward scored twice as the Seminoles took down the Wildcats, 2-0, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night in Palo Alto, Calif.
The Wildcats finish the season 11-5-4 overall, while Florida State improves to 13-6-1, and will face Auburn or No. 1 Stanford on Sunday in the third round.
After FSU dominated possession for much of the first half, Castellanos finally got the Seminoles on the board in the 44th minute, knocking in a cross from Kaycie Tillman.
The Wildcats picked up their play in the second half, but struggled to create viable scoring chances all game. Arizona finished with just two shots on goal and did not take a single corner kick.
The Wildcats’ most threatening shot came in the 75th minute when Jill Aguilera fired a would-be equalizer off the far post after a feed from Kelcey Cavarra.
But a few minutes later, a handball just outside UA’s 18-yard box set up Castellanos with a short free kick and she bent it into the right side of the net to give FSU a 2-0 lead with roughly 13 minutes to play.
“That put a stamp on the game for them,” Arizona head coach Tony Amato said.
It was Castellanos’ 19th goal of the season. The Venezuelan native led the ACC in scoring this year, and was one of three players on the shortlist for the Best FIFA Women's Player award.
Castellanos had seven shots as Florida State outshot Arizona 12-10 in the match, including a 10-5 edge in the first 45 minutes. FSU’s Dallas Dorosy nearly scored on a breakaway in the 10th minute, but her shot went just wide of the post.
While at its end, it was a successful season for Arizona which reached several milestones.
After being picked to finish ninth in the Pac-12, the Wildcats finished fourth, winning seven conference games for the first time in program history. They also hosted an NCAA Tournament game for just the second time in school history and advanced past the first round for just the fourth time ever.
Arizona also tied then-No. 1 UCLA for the first time ever, and went unbeaten in eight straight games leading up to Friday’s match vs. Florida State.
“Unforgettable,” senior forward Charlotte Brascia described the season.
Arizona’s senior class departs as the winningest in program history, tallying 45 victories in four years. They also are responsible for four of the program’s six NCAA Tournament wins, and are the only class to ever play in the postseason three times.
Midfielder Gabi Stoian exits as the program’s second all-time leading scorer and assister, while midfielder Cali Crisler led the Wildcats in assists this season (7), and Brascia and defender Brandi Park (when healthy) started in every game.
"I'm proud of our team for what they've done all year," Amato said. "It’s hard to win games and to make it to this point says a lot about our team. Our seniors really took ownership with the team this year and they are the reason we got here."
Still, Arizona is in a good position moving forward as it will return two all-conference players in goalkeeper Lainey Burdett and outside back Morgan McGarry next season, along with 10 other players who started in at least one game in 2017 — Cavarra, Aguilera, Leah Carillo, Samantha Falasco, Sabrina Enciso, Kennedy Kieneker, Amanda Porter, Maddie Bennett, Jada Talley, and Hannah Clifford.
Burdett, McGarry, Falasco, Enciso, and Kieneker started in every game, while Cavarra started in 19 of 20. Porter was second on Arizona in scoring (3), and Aguilera was second in shots (27) and shots on-goal (15).
The Wildcats, sans their seniors, will likely return to the pitch sometime in March for their spring season.
“We’re just going to keep growing and getting closer,” Cavarra said before the start of the NCAA Tournament. “This experience will help us a ton moving forward with the youth on our team.”
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire