UPPER CHICHESTER — By the time Allyson Kirkpatrick took to the bench early in the second half Wednesday, she had done plenty to fill the stat sheet.
It would take a few more dangerous runs by the Penncrest forward in the second half before a less-than-comfortable 3-1 nonleague win over Chichester was in the books. But Kirkpatrick's exploits early Wednesday not only laid the foundation for her team's win but also set a launching point for the Lions this season.
Kirkpatrick was precise with her finishing in the first half, beating the Chichester defense for goals in the 12th and 34th minutes, the latter setting the game's final margin. On a day when it was in too little supply among the Lions, Kirkpatrick showed poise in front of goal, each time taking a touch around an onrushing defender and finishing like she was the only one in the penalty area.
"I just made sure I didn't hit it over,' the senior said. "I tried to stay calm and take my time and made sure I placed it correctly.'
Her goals bookended a tally by left back Mariah Kozub, who finished off a long run in the 30th minute by squeaking a shot through Chi goalkeeper Theresa Mignogna and inside the nearside post.
With the Eagles pressing for goals, the Lions had chances to counter-attack for more than just the three tallies. Kirkpatrick was denied by the crossbar a minute before halftime, and a few rushes of blood to the head by the Penncrest attackers in the second half meant they didn't make the most of their second-half chances.
While the attacking talent of the likes of Lauren Huggins and Nicole and Olivia Mancarella is evident, the decision-making in the final third is something that Penncrest recognizes is a work in progress.
"I think sometimes we get a little too anxious and don't hit it well,' Kirkpatrick said. "But I think it's good to have that mentality and also keep calm and make sure you place it well. ... You get very anxious up top to score.'
Some of the reasons why the Lions were stuck on three was due to Mignogna, who made nine stops on a busy afternoon. She denied Kirkpatrick her hat trick with a smart leg save in the 55th minute, but her best moment may have been in the 68th minute when she stoned Olivia Mancarella on a breakaway and got across goal quickly enough to catch Katie Arborgast's follow-up shot.
Chichester nearly made the Lions pay for that lack of finishing. By going with a three-man defense in the second half instead of the back four it opened with, Chi was able to press higher into the midfield and tilt the level of play after the interval. The Eagles almost got a goal back immediately out of the break, but a MacKenzie Fredericks drive struck the crossbar.
"At halftime we discussed a lot of what we needed to improve,' said Alyssa Blair, whose goal was a superb solo effort that came squarely against the run of play in the first half. "Coach pointed out that we needed to press up quicker and stronger and send more balls through to our quicker players out wide.'
The Eagles' ability to hang tough is magnified by the fact that they were playing with just 11 players, five of whom are freshmen, replacing a defense that was composed of four seniors a season ago. It leaves a lot of work for the veterans to lead as well as shoulder their own responsibilities.
"They play really well together, but it's just them learning how to cover each other and how to recover in time before the ball gets to me,' Mignogna said of the freshmen. " ... Last year, the defense was set and I was coming in new, so I felt as if I didn't have to direct as much. But now that they're all new, even more than today, I have to step up with the talking and make sure they're all doing what they're supposed to be doing.'
Some of the best chances in a fairly even second half belonged to Chi. After Kayla Allen didn't have to make a save in the first half, Brittany Kashner was forced into action three times in the second. Blair just missed the post on a shot/cross midway through the half, while Kara Borowik sailed a shot just high after a short corner-kick delivery from Blair.