Zack Steffen personifies Maryland’s growth on the soccer field this season. The freshman goalkeeper, under siege behind a novice back line early in the year, has rounded into the high-end form Sasho Cirovski anticipated after signing him from the Philadelphia Union’s youth academy.
Three months after the rookie and team’s dodgy start, the Terrapins moved to the verge of a College Cup berth Sunday evening at Ludwig Field. Steffen made two breathtaking saves in the second half, and Patrick Mullins’s 32nd-minute goal held up for a 1-0 victory over UC Irvine.
With their ninth consecutive triumph, the fifth-seeded Terps (15-3-5) earned a rematch with No. 4 California (14-4-2) in an NCAA quarterfinal Saturday in Berkeley, Calif.
In the second match of the season, the Bears defeated visiting Maryland, 3-2, in overtime — Steffen’s second consecutive three-goal outing. With a victory at Cal, the Terps would advance to the semifinals in Chester, Pa. — 27 miles from his home town in Downingtown, Pa.
The Bears stand in the way.
“It’s what we said after the [Cal] game in our hotel [in September]: We wanted them at the end of the year, and now we’ve got them,” Steffen said.
Why did the Terps want the Bears again?
“Disappointment,” Steffen said.
Cirovski continues to marvel about his goalie’s rise.
“It’s been a slow ascension — every practice, every game — you see him get better and better,” he said. “We knew we had a special goalkeeper when we recruited him.”
In the 58th minute, Steffen made a soaring save on Enrique Cardenas’s searing 20-yarder. In the 86th, he made a reflex stop on Lester Hayes’s close-in header. The 12th-seeded Anteaters (15-5-3) also had an apparent equalizer in the 89th minute disallowed by what appeared to be a proper offside call. UC Irvine’s winning streak ended at eight.
Aside from Steffen’s stylish work, the bruising match lacked artistic value: Maryland generated just three shots on goal, but one of them was Mullins’s 16th goal of the year, created by Tsubasa Endoh, who turned the right corner and crossed from the end line for the senior’s easy finish.
“It’s one of those plays where it seems everybody is getting sucked to the near post,” Mullins said. “I just took a hard, strong run and split two defenders. . . . At that point, you can’t really miss. Just get something on it, it’s going in the goal.”
●VIRGINIA 3, MARQUETTE 1: In Charlottesville, the eighth-seeded Cavaliers survived defender Matt Brown’s red card in the first minute and gained their first quarterfinal berth since winning the 2009 title.
The Cavaliers (12-5-5) will host Connecticut (12-2-8) on Friday night. The Huskies upset top-seeded UCLA on penalty kicks after a 3-3 draw.
Brown was sent off for taking down an attacker surging into open space 30 yards from the net.
However, Scott Thomsen scored on a 28-yard free kick in the 24th minute, and Darius Madison struck a leaping volley less than two minutes into the second half.
The ninth-seeded Golden Eagles (13-6-2) drew to 2-1 in the 53rd minute, but Marcus Salandy-Defour drew a penalty kick 20 seconds later, and Todd Wharton restored a two-goal margin.
Virginia’s Calle Brown (Loudoun County) made three saves, including a sensational stop on the goal line in the first half.
“I have never been a part of a game like that,” Virginia Coach George Gelnovatch said. “We have had a game plan for a week — a pretty detailed one. In 57 seconds, that went out the window.”
●MICHIGAN STATE 1, GEORGETOWN 0: Adam Montague scored from 12 yards in the 28th minute as the 11th-seeded Spartans (15-4-3) upset the No. 6 Hoyas (14-5-2) at Shaw Field.
Georgetown hoarded possession but failed to convert several early opportunities and couldn’t get a final touch on several dangerous balls in the late stages.
“Good ball after good ball through the six-yard box,” said Brian Wiese, who guided the Hoyas to the 2012 NCAA title game. “All it needed was a touch. There must have been a half-dozen where you are saying, ‘That’s a goal.’ And nobody is able to get it.”
Just 45 seconds after entering, Montague pounced on a deflection and drove it over goalkeeper Tomas Gomez.
The Hoyas had not trailed at home since Sept. 22 and hadn’t conceded a first-half goal in six weeks. They entered the match with a 39-9 scoring difference.
“They had the ability to sit back, and they are a team built for that — to stack players around the ball,” Hoyas senior forward Steve Neumann said of the Spartans’ tactical success.