ACC Women’s Soccer Semifinals: Second-Half Flurry Carries Cavaliers

Virginia shuts out Clemson with five goals in the second half to send the Cavaliers to the final for second straight year

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CARY, N.C. (theACC.com) – The offensive floodgates finally opened for top-seeded Virginia in Friday night’s Atlantic Coast Conference Women’s Soccer Championship semifinal match, and the Cavaliers rode the wave into Sunday’s finals.

The Cavaliers scored five goals – the first two by junior defender Kristen McNabb – in the final 38 minutes and blanked fourth-seeded Clemson, 5-0, at WakeMed Soccer Park.

Virginia (16-1-1) advanced to Sunday’s noon title match against the winner of Friday evening’s second semifinal match between second-seeded Florida State and third-seeded North Carolina.

Friday night’s win was the ninth straight for the Cavaliers, who entered the match as the nation’s top-ranked team. Virginia, which dropped a 1-0 decision to eventual national champion Florida State in last year’s ACC Championship final, is seeking its third conference title and its first since 2012.

Clemson (13-4-1) – seeded fourth in the ACC Championship but ranked sixth nationally – remains in good standing for an at-large berth in the NCAA Championship when the field is announced Monday at 4:30 p.m.

Virginia broke through at the 52:20 mark, when senior midfielder Kaili Torres sent a cross to the net from 14 yards out, and McNabb slammed home the goal. 

McNabb and the Cavaliers struck again less than five minutes later, when McNabb took a 25-yard free kick from junior Alexis Shaffer and found the goal again for her fifth score of the season and a 2-0 lead. Shaffer—playing in her hometown – registered her eight assist of the season and the 22nd of her career.

“I didn’t expect that at all,” McNabb said of her two key goals. “I just made a couple of runs to the goal, and Makenzy (Doniak) picked for me, and I was just wide open.”

Virginia applied the finishing touches in the final 10½ minutes. First, Veronica Latsko sent home a long-range empty-net goal off a pass from Torres for a 3-0 lead. Then Shaffer scored off a pass from Doniak for her team-leading 11th goal of the year. 

Finally, with 4:26 remaining on the clock, freshman Christiana Sullivan scored the second goal of her collegiate career for the final 5-0 margin.

“I thought we did a better job in the second half of moving the ball and making better decisions,” Virginia head coach Steve Swanson said.  “It was good to see us get a couple of goals from Kristen to kind of get things jump-started. I’ve said before that I don’t think she gets enough credit, but she is as valuable as any player that we have.”

Virginia held a 7-3 edge in shots (two on goal) in the first half and had eight corner kick opportunities to the Tigers’ none. Virginia keeper Morgan Stearns recorded a pair of saves, but the defensive gem belonged to Clemson freshman midfielder Samantha Staab.

Staab’s big play came in with just over nine minutes remaining in the opening period after Shaffer pushed the ball into the open field and found herself looking at an open net after Clemson goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan slipped down. Shaffer lined a shot from close-range, but Staab quickly moved over to make the block and sustain the scoreless tie that held up until the half.

The Tigers stayed even for a little longer at the outset of the second period, but ultimately couldn’t contain a Virginia squad that has scored 18 goals in its last three games.

“You could say we were a little bit off, but let’s give Virginia credit for being a little bit on,” Clemson coach Eddie Radwanski said. “I think after their first two goals, there were a few heads going down, which can happen. But our group is very competitive, and they kept pressing trying to get a goal back, and they left themselves exposed. You have a quality team like Virginia, they are going to penalize you – which they did.”

The win was Virginia’s second of the season versus the Tigers. The Cavaliers posted a 2-0 victory when the two Top 10 teams met at Clemson on Oct. 8.