Going into Saturday’s WCHA semifinal clash with No. 2 Wisconsin, Ohio State needed a lot of stars to align in order to secure an invite to the NCAA tournament. Against all odds, that stellar scenario seemed to be playing out perfectly. One by one Princeton, Providence, Boston University, and Colgate fell in their respective conference tournament semis. The Buckeyes just needed to upset the Badgers.
They came awfully close.
|Scoring by Period||1||2||3||Final|
|No. 9 Ohio State||1||1||0||2|
|No. 2 Wisconsin||1||1||1||3|
An aggressive, high energy effort by the Badgers in the opening frame put the Buckeyes on their heels to start to the game. Midway through the first period, that elevated pace led to an OSU penalty and a Wisconsin power play goal. Britta Curl hammered home a back door pass for a 1-0 Badger lead.
But the Scarlet and Gray battled back. Emma Maltais had one of the Bucks’ best chances, nearly knotted the game but chipping the puck just over the crossbar. Finally, with a little over a minute to go in the period, Ohio State leveled the score. Jincy Dunne boomed a shot off the end wall. Tatum Skaggs collected the big bounce and potted the equalizer.
Although Wisconsin continued its up-tempo play in the second period, Ohio State surged ahead thanks to a deft redirect by Charly Dahlquist. Lauren Boyle blasted a shot which the senior forward tipped into the twine. Badger goalie Kristen Campbell had difficulty seeing the shot with Skaggs parked on her doorstep.
The Bucks were poised to take their slim lead into the second intermission break. Then a late defensive zone faceoff changed the narrative. Wisconsin won the draw. Andrea Braendli made the initial save through heavy traffic. However, she had no chance on the follow up as Sophie Shirley buried the rebound.
The third period was delayed by a wonky Zamboni. Once the teams finally took the ice, they dueled through 15 scoreless minutes. But Wisconsin had just a little more bite to its game. With 4:30 to go, the Badgers seized the lead. From behind the net, Annie Pankowski set up Abby Roque for the go-ahead goal.
"[The Badgers] came out flying," reflected Nadine Muzerall after the game. "I think they had a little bit of a chip on their shoulder from us taking four of the six points last time that we played against them. Our girls were on their heels a little bit. But then we had moments and flashes of greatness. We just needed to capitalize a little bit more on those."
The Bucks made a last-ditch push, swapping Braendli for the extra attacker in the final minute of action. Tonight, it wouldn’t be enough. Wisconsin prevailed by a 3-2 score. The Badgers advance to the WCHA finals where they will face No.1 Minnesota.
As for the Buckeyes, their season may well be over. According to the PairWise rankings (which mimic the process used by the NCAA tournament selection committee) the loss to Wisconsin leaves Ohio State sits on the outside of the national tourney field looking in. The Bucks are No. 10 in the computer rankings, .00301 RPI points back of No. 7 Princeton which occupies the final at-large spot.
A case could certainly be made for the Bucks’ inclusion anyway. They posted a similar number of wins as teams not very far ahead of them in the rankings while playing a much more difficult schedule. OSU’s slate was the second-most difficult in the country this year. No. 1 Minnesota and No. 2 Wisconsin only suffered eight combined losses all season. The Scarlet and Gray were responsible for two of them.
However, it would take an unusual move by the selection committee to override the computer rankings and bump the Buckeyes up the list past so many other teams. We’ll hold off on calling it until tomorrow’s selection show but this looks like the end of the line for Ohio State in 2018-19.
Whatever the outcome, Muzerall is proud of her players and the culture shift they continue to make in the OSU program. “I’ve been here three years and over the course of that time there’s been a lot of changes for the positive in the culture and the character of these young women,” said the Buckeye coach. “They’re just so connected and fantastic human beings. This game won’t define who they are as people...Very proud of them as a coach and happy that I’ve been a part of the process.”