DiGiacomo's hat trick leads Denver to first NCAA Round of 16 appearance
STANFORD, Calif. -- Three goals from junior midfielder Nicholette DiGiacomo booked a spot for Denver in its first NCAA Round of 16. A 28-yard strike in extra time capped off DiGiacomo’s first-career hat trick, leading the Pioneers to a 3-2 upset against fourth-seeded Maryland in the second round on Friday at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium.
“It’s always tough when you give up the first one,” head coach Jeff Hooker said. “They started a little bit better than we did, and we didn’t start how we wanted to. At halftime, I thought the girls were saying the right things, doing the right things and their body language was great. I tweaked the formation a little bit and we ended up getting more of the ball. We’ve been down two goals before and they never panicked, we kept trying to play.”
The Pioneers (17-2-4) conceded an early goal in the fourth minute, a rebound finish by junior forward Hayley Brock for her 13th goal of the season. Becky Kaplan took the initial shot from just inside the penalty area that senior goalkeeper Lara Campbell kept out of the back of the net, but Brock ran onto the rebound and gave the Terps the breakthrough from five yards out.
Denver nearly got on the scoresheet in the 21st minute when Maryland keeper Rachelle Beanlands tried to clear her lines. Beanlands’ clearance went off the back of senior midfielder Katy Van Lieshout, but didn’t get across the end line before Beanlands was able to corral it.
Maryland (14-7-2) produced a scoring chance of its own before the halftime, but Campbell came off her line quickly in the 28th minute to make a big save on a one-on-one, pushing the shot wide to eliminate the opportunity for another Terps’ put-back.
After the intermission, Denver created a couple of chances, but it was Maryland who got the second goal, a strike off a counter attack to make it 2-0 in the 60th minute. Becky Kaplan got the goal, sending her strike into the side netting.
The Pioneers made it 2-1 in the 68th minute on a DiGiacomo header off a set-piece service from sophomore center back Sam Harder. Denver earned a free kick to set up the scoring opportunity. Harder played a ball for DiGiacomo just inside the six-yard box, who flicked her header into the upper-right corner.
Sophomore midfielder Nikki Pappalardo nearly found the equalizer in the 79th minute, taking a crack from just inside the 18 that was saved by Terps’ keeper Beanlands.
The Crimson and Gold were able to score in the 90th minute on a DiGiacomo penalty kick. Senior forward Kalie Vaughn beat her defender to the end line and was wrapped up in the area to force the penalty. DiGiacomo’s spot kick was tipped by Beanlands, but the ball still had enough pace on it to find the back of the net. Maryland pushed for another goal with the remaining 41 seconds, but Denver cleared its lines and forced extra time.
Ashley Spivey got the first crack for Maryland in the first period of extra time, but Campbell came up with a save to keep the teams level in the 92nd minute.
Two minutes later, Denver connected a few passes in the attacking third, leading to the DiGiacomo game-winner. Hamilton was on the front end of the final pass of the match, laying it off to her classmate about 28 yards out, setting up the DiGiacomo shot into the upper 90.
“She’s a big time player, and she does well in big games,” Hooker said of DiGiacomo. “She wasn’t going to give up, and she did a great job of organizing everyone and making them feel comfortable around her. They were giving the ball to her and letting her run things, and she did a great job spreading it around.”
The win improves Denver’s record to 3-7 in the NCAA tournament, sending the Pioneers to their first Round of 16 in program history. The hat trick was Denver's first in the NCAA tournament, and the Pioneers second of the season.
“Maryland was unreal, so fast and athletic,” DiGiacomo said. “Every girl [on Denver] worked their butts off and did what we needed to do. Our goals came a little later than we would have liked, but we got them in and it was a complete team effort. I felt like everyone was on their game, and after we calmed down, we realized we could play with them. Our confidence grew and we were able to ping the ball around more.”
The Pioneers led the Terps in shots by a count of 14-13 and held a 4-2 edge in corners.