The final minutes of regulation were winding down when a voice from the Mulcahy Stadium stands pierced through the warm Tucson air.
“This is your ball, Falasco!” it said, as Arizona forward Cali Crisler readied to take a corner kick.
That it was.
Samantha Falasco headed in Crisler’s service to lift the Arizona soccer team to a 1-0 win over Texas Tech on Sunday night.
“I was like, ‘yep, this is my ball,” said Falasco, whose goal was scored in the 88th minute.
“We always work on wanting to be the best in the box … and I was making my run and the ball came to me, and I was like ‘this is my chance.’”
The left-footed Crisler delivered what UA head coach Tony Amato called “an absolutely perfect” ball and Falasco, not willing to let it go to waste, fought forward and headed it in .... with her nose.
“As long as it goes in,” Crisler joked.
Falasco’s timely goal improved UA’s record to 2-2-2 and ended their lengthy scoring drought.
The Wildcats were shut out Friday in a 1-0 loss to Florida Gulf Coast, despite outshooting the Eagles 19-2 and Sunday’s game had a similar feel, as the Wildcats had 17-2 shot margin before Falasco’s late heroics.
“I felt like we were knocking on the door for a long time and it was going to be a matter of how the goal came about,” Amato said. “She’s done that before.”
Falasco’s game-winner vs. Texas Tech was her second career goal and reminiscent of her first career goal she scored last November, when she headed in the lone goal in Arizona’s 1-0 win vs. ASU in Tempe.
Crisler took the corner, and, yes, that ball hit Falasco’s nose, too.
“I guess that’s just how I score,” she said.
Amato recently had Falasco focus on heading the ball downward in training because “she had a few headers go 40 yards over the crossbar.”
“Sometimes you wonder if the little things in training are going to sink in, if it’s going to pay off, and it sure did tonight,” Amato said.
Even with Arizona’s recent absence on the scoreboard, Amato believes the Wildcats are playing their best soccer since he arrived in Tucson in 2013.
Both Falasco, a sophomore, and Crisler, a senior, agreed.
“We’ve been playing amazing. We’ve been working super hard on finding passes and creating chances in the box, and to finally be able to score is a really great feeling,” Falasco said.
Arizona knocked off Texas Tech, a perennial NCAA Tournament team, despite having two of their top strikers, Gabi Stoian and Charlotte Brascia, exit the game with injuries.
A crucial save by Lainey Burdett only helped. The UA goalkeeper dove to her left to corral a shot from TTU’s Ally Griffin, who was inside the six-yard box, to keep the game tied in the 77th minute.
Burdett, who had two saves on the night, recorded her third shutout of the season and the 13th of her career.
“That’s what it needs to look like,” Amato said. “The picture tonight from everything that we’re trying to do. From the defensive pressure, to the combinations, it needs to look like that and we tell our keepers ‘well, that means we can’t go a whole game without a chance coming at you and you’re going to need to make some saves when another team opens us up’ and she answered the bell today and that’s why she’s a big-time goalie.”
Arizona will look to extend their winning streak next Friday when they’ll host BYU. First kick is set for 7 p.m. MST.
“We played really well this weekend. ... It’s just that final piece that we needed to break through and score some goals, and hopefully this pushes us forward,” Amato said.
“It doesn’t get any easier, though. BYU is a really good team.”
Other game notes
- UA sophomore Morgan McGarry continued her strong play Sunday, playing the full 90, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. “She’s awesome,” Amato said. “We’ve had a lot of people comment, like other coaches we’ve played against, say ‘your number 11 is big time.’ And I’m glad she plays for us. That’s a new element for us. She can defend hard, she’s attacking out of the back. Super fit. She’s doing a really good job and she doesn’t have a ton of experience. She’s been here for two years. Last year, we tried to play her higher up the field and she’s embraced the change to play in the back and she’s been awesome.”
- Amato said Stoian tweaked a hamstring. She exited in the 58th minute with the help of team trainers. “We’ll have to keep an eye on that,” Amato said. “Sometimes those are a little tricky and we’ll just treat it and see where we are in a few days.” Stoian is the team’s leader in goals this season and is only a handful of goals short of the school’s all-time record.
- Brascia suffered a left arm injury after being taken down in the box in the 68th minute, but returned in the 81st minute.
- Amato was impressed how freshmen Jada Talley and Hannah Clifford filled in for Stoian and Brascia. “We have confidence in Jada and Clifford going up there. They looked dangerous as well and we thought one of them would be able to grab the goal. They did a good job.”
- Talley’s father, Errol, was the one who yelled, “this is your ball, Falasco!” before the game-winning goal. “I always hear him in the stands,” Falasco said.
- The estimated attendance was 695.
- Texas Tech’s coach berated his team on the field after the game. “That was zero of who we are!” he yelled along with many other not-so-pleasant things.
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire