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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Women's Soccer 2, Pittsburgh 1

Flick of the light switch

Friars seal homestand with invigorating triumph, revive post-season hope

Having just curtained their Senior Day game, this much is all but assured: this year’s installment of the Lady Friars soccer team will not again be seen grinding on Glay Field in formal game attire. That is, unless they can lap up the 12 possible points left in four away games and thus lock in fourth place in their division come tournament week.

On the other hand, with those pivotal road dates laying ahead, the more relevant question remains among the Providence fan base: will they at least be in action beyond the October 28 regular season finale at St. John’s?

Shortly after honoring their senior six-pack in the time-honored annual commemoration Sunday afternoon, they emboldened that possibility with a particularly timely 2-1 triumph of the Pittsburgh Panthers. Not only did it mark the club’s first multi-goal outing of the 2007 campaign and second victory in three tries, but they charged up a second Big East win for the first time since Sunday’s pre-game women of the hour were freshmen in 2004.

If that weren’t enough, the Friars snapped a pure deadlock with the Panthers in a fight to avoid last place in the American Division. Sunday’s contestants brought in identical 1-5 conference records, good enough for 3 points to put them each within striking distance of 6th place (1-4-1) Syracuse.

The win, for the moment, relieves the Friars of the slightly extra burden Pittsburgh now faces of digging out of a tad more dirt. With the Orange having drawn a scoreless wash with Marquette Sunday, the once paralyzed Providence is back in the black, barely bettering Syracuse’s five points with their six.

Riding the moderate surf of Senior Day sentiment immediately before kick-off, the Friars had a distinctly vocal and energetic huddle, almost as if opening the leftover emotion from their previous home win over Rutgers a week before. But in the young stages of the action, Pittsburgh jumped out to pour vinegar into the host’s cup and inflicted a carry-over from Friday’s 3-0 Friar falter to West Virginia, wherein they crumbled after 65 minutes of defensive impeccability.

To start, PC’s Jackie Pestor and Victoria Neff’s persistence managed to stuff up repeated throw-in by Panther Stephanie Davis in the upper portion of their end. Before the ninth minute had elapsed, however, Pittsburgh finally broke in deep, at which point a hustling Ashley Habbel drew a penalty kick, her team’s first this year, in a goal box flurry.

Habbel, already with three game-clinching strikes to her credit, nailed the fifth overall connection of her sophomore season to the right of goalkeeper Laura Elfers, who is now 2-for-4 facing clock-stopper one-on-ones.

But that would be all that the Panthers managed to bring into Elfers’ vicinity through the first 45-minute frame. Meanwhile, the frenzied Friars spent the bulk of the half struggling to settle a play and put freshman Morie Kephart, making her first start for Pittsburgh, to the test.

It would not happen during their first extended tour of offensive grounds and ultimately, Pittsburgh’s clearance sent the ball into a brief hot potato possession pattern around midfield. But PC thrust it back into prime scoring territory again within the final three minutes and sophomore Tara Ricciardi, who nearly penned an assist on Danielle Wieneke’s long-range near-miss in the 18th minute, this time thwarted another opposing breakout attempt to initiate what would end with her game-knotting goal.

Benko ended up assuming control out in the open and tore down the right alley of the Panthers’ half. Once up front before the post, she tapped the ball back to a trailing Ricciardi, who rolled her first career connection into the right corner with 59 ticks left before intermission.

Pittsburgh spotted the latter half with more sustained threats, but forced Elfers to merely play one of their four shot attempts, a generously lighter than normal workload for the Providence senior noted for her long-running cornerstone workhorse role. Kephart herself perked up well enough to answer two PC bids that plowed through her defensive garrison.

But in the 74th minute, Kephart committed a fatal infraction when she went out of her way to confront a rushing tag team of Weineke and Benko. Benko’s awkward kick squirted beyond all of the offensive and defensive bodies at the brim of the goalie and box and trickled in.

The clumsily executed play would be officially tallied as an “own goal” on the blunderstruck Panthers’ part, but it was good enough for the rejuvenated Friar faithful, who at the very least see life for their team to build on starting with the coming weekend’s Midwest journey.

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