PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh women’s two-game winning streak in the Atlantic Coast Conference ended Thursday when Notre Dame toppled the Panthers 2-0 at Ambrose Urbanic Field.
Goals toward the end of each half from Lauren Bohaboy and Morgan Andrews lifted the visitors to 8-4-1 on the season (3-2-0 ACC). Pittsburgh dropped to 6-7-0 with the loss (2-3-0 ACC).
Pitt head coach Greg Miller and his players can take plenty of confidence from a game in which they held firm against one of the nation’s top-ranked sides for long periods. The No. 14 ranked Fighting Irish had to scrap with every ounce of their fiber to take three points from Western Pennsylvania after Panthers captain Jackie Poucel inspired the hosts with her tenacious defending.
“We were not very pleased with the last seven or eight minutes of the first half,” Miller told The Soccer Observer. “Other than that, I thought we were okay.”
Bohaboy’s opener arrived at a critical moment with the Panthers pinned against the ropes, grimly hanging on for a reprieve from the half-time whistle. Notre Dame had held a strong advantage in possession, territory and shots during the first half without seriously troubling Taylor Francis in Pitt’s goal. The pressure intensified toward the interval when Irish head coach Theresa Romagnolo brought on English forward Karin Muya whose dribbling exploited Pittsburgh’s increasingly ragged defending.
Miller’s young roster lacks the depth that top ACC programs can call upon at key moments. That left Pitt’s third-year head coach in a difficult spot as his players toiled to match Notre Dame’s movement: Hold on with the flagging starters or risk throwing on refreshed but inexperienced legs.
“We didn’t feel we could make a move at that particular moment,” Miller said. “We just had to ride it out.”
They almost made it. Three minutes of the first half remained when Anna Maria Gilbertson found space at the edge of Pittsburgh’s 18-yard box. She worked the ball to Bohaboy on her right, and the senior forward drilled a low shot into the far corner of the net.
Bohaboy had almost broken the deadlock on 19 minutes after being freed inside the penalty box by an inventive Andrews backheel. Her left-foot shot smacked against the crossbar with Francis helpless.
The luck of the Irish deserted Notre Dame again five minutes later when Cari Roccaro’s header thumped against the same part of the frame. A goal then would have been harsh on Pittsburgh. Referee Ben Jones had gifted a cheap free kick to the visitors when Poucel cleanly stripped the ball from Kaleigh Olmsted on the left wing.
Pitt’s chances were few and far between. Taylor Pryce whipped in a cross from the right that just eluded fellow Canadian Ashley Moreira, and Shaina Ashouri failed to wrap her foot around the ball when Moreira found her in the inside-right channel.
Muya’s direct running kept unsettling Pittsburgh’s back line as the second half commenced. Support quickly arrived as the Panthers’ midfield continued snapping into tackles that reminded Notre Dame’s decorated playmakers that they were in for a battle. Andrews kept trying to unlock the home defense, but her shots were coming from longer distances as the game progressed.
Pitt could have had a penalty on 65 minutes when Pryce latched onto a loose ball after Katie Naughton headed away Emily Pietrangelo’s cross. Pryce reached the ball fractionally before defender Sammy Scofield and seemed to be impeded in her attempts to advance on goal.
Poucel galvanized her team two minutes later when she intercepted a ball on the halfway line before embarking on a charge toward Notre Dame’s penalty box. The move ended with Pryce seeing her shot blocked.
The Panthers were still firmly in the game going into the final 10 minutes. Miller was looking to adapt his formation to throw bodies forward when a rare Poucel slip allowed Andrews to conclude the contest.
Pittsburgh’s captain made another excellent challenge to thwart Bohaboy before taking a loose touch on the edge of her 18-yard box. Andrews pounced to crack a low right-foot shot into Francis’ far corner.
Sunday sees the Panthers return to action with a trip to No. 7 ranked North Carolina. Pittsburgh rounds out October with successive home games against Florida State, Louisville and Clemson.
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