High school soccer

Northwestern slips past Clover on penalty kicks

bmccormick@heraldonline.comMarch 14, 2013 

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    Northwestern 1, Clover 1 (4-3 Pks)

    Clover: OG 17’; Brandi Cornelio 4 saves; Northwestern: Lauren Watts 62’; Rachel Gregoire 8 saves.

    PK’s- Clover: Samantha Pantuosco saved, Laila Rojas goal, Naomi Matley goal, Carlie Eastbrook miss; Northwestern: Watts goal, Madeline Ramsey goal, Whitney Hunt goal, Helena Moore miss, Sarah Eddy goal.

Northwestern slipped past Clover on penalty kicks in a frigid girls’ soccer match Wednesday night at District 3 Stadium. Sarah Eddy coolly dispatched her spot kick in the upper right corner to give the Trojans the win in a game between two teams ranked in the top 15 in the state. Maybe it was because of the shootout, but it felt like a playoff game.

“That was evident in today’s game,” said Northwestern coach Cesar Robles. “It was very intense, very passionate. So, I’m very proud of the girls.”

Clover (4-2-1, 2-2 in Region 3) was in a good position when the Blue Eagles went ahead in the first half on a Northwestern (4-2, 3-0) own goal. An innocuous-looking throw-in was nodded on by a Trojan defender into the opposite corner of her own goal to put the visitors in front, to the surprise of the fans huddled under warm blankets.

But Robles’ team battled throughout and got the reward for its effort in the second half when Whitney Hunt delivered a slide-rule pass near midfield into the path of Lauren Watts, and the senior outpaced the Clover backline before slotting past Brandi Cornelio to tie the game with 18 minutes left in the second half. Neither team engineered a serious chance in overtime, sending the match to spot kicks. Clover’s second miss set up the chance for Eddy to win it, and the sophomore kept her poise to seal the win.

It was a tough way for the Blue Eagles to lose on a night when they were well deserving of a share of the spoils.

“It’s just one of those things that could have gone either way,” said Kelsey Geary, Clover’s coach. “I think we had a good majority of the possession, but we just couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net. We just regroup from here, and when they come to our house, we have a different game plan for them.”

The game could have been a matchup of two future Winthrop Eagle teammates in Watts and Clover’s Samantha Prytulak, who have both signed to play for Spencer Smith’s program next season. Prytulak was the Region 3 Player of the Year and an all-state team member last season; Watts has been all-region each of her first three seasons of high school soccer and was cited recently as a top-30 player in the Mid-Atlantic by Top Drawer Soccer.

But the clash of future teammates will have to wait until next time as Prytulak nurses a fractured foot back to health. She should be back in four weeks; no question the Blue Eagles certainly missed her finishing touch Wednesday night.

There were still four other confirmed college soccer players on the pitch and the quality showed through in glimpses, especially in Northwestern’s midfield engine room, manned by Helena Moore and Watts, who catches the eye with her unique front flip throw-in. After Clover snatched an early lead courtesy of the Trojan defense’s headed miscue, Robles pushed Moore and Watts further up the pitch, a move that nearly paid immediate dividends. Watts looked through on goal about 25 yards out, but elected to pass ahead to Moore, who was just offsides.

In the second half, the decision to move the two midfielders higher up paid off when Watts expertly finished Hunt’s cutting pass.

“I had to gamble a little bit,” said Robles, “and push them on to try and get a goal. Whitney played a beautiful through ball for Lauren and she kept her composure and finished it.”

It was game-on at that point, but both teams struggled at times to get going in a frigid headwind, while the synthetic surface didn’t help two teams used to playing on natural grass.

“Our field probably isn’t half the speed of this,” Robles explained.

Still, the quality on the field continued to shine as both teams got the ball down on the smooth surface and played. The visitors looked the more likely of the two to snatch a late winner when Geary took her own risk and pushed Wingate signee Naomi Matley out of the back and up to midfield. She and fellow midfielder Samantha Pantuosco pulled the strings as the Blue Eagles dominated the final 10 minutes of regulation, forcing Trojan keeper Rachel Gregoire into several saves at full stretch. Clover ripped four shots on goal during that span, none better than Pantuosco’s lash at the frame that Gregoire parried away to safety.

Neither team took too many chances during two nervy and chilly five-minute overtime periods. The game was to be settled by spot kicks.

Watts scored for Northwestern before Gregoire saved the visitors’ first attempt. Each team scored their next two, before a Trojan miss kept the Blue Eagles’ hopes alive. Eddy ended them with a well-struck ball into the corner that gave Robles’ team a Region 3 win to savor.

Bret McCormick •  329-4032. Twitter: @BretJust1T

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