The Pilgrim girls’ soccer team is in the midst of its biggest week of the season, with games against Division II powers Ponaganset and Exeter/West Greenwich.
It couldn’t have started any better.
Amid blustery conditions on Tuesday afternoon, the Pats controlled the action from the start against Ponaganset, capitalized on their chances and took over sole possession of second place in Division II with a 3-0 victory. The Pats are now 7-1-1, just behind unbeaten EWG, whom they’ll play today.
“I’m happy all the way around,” said Pilgrim head coach Mike Weber. “It was a complete game for us. It was nice the way everybody came together and played.”
The Pats still haven’t lost since their season opener. A 2-2 tie against Lincoln last week was the only blemish.
But the Pats also hadn’t been firing on all cylinders.
“The other day against East Providence, we were up 4-0 at halftime and I screamed at them because they played great for five minutes in the beginning and five minutes at the end, and that was it,” Weber said. “Like I told them, I think their level is way up here, but they don’t always play there.”
Against the Chieftains, they did – and they may have reached a new level.
Though the game remained scoreless for most of the first half, the Pats were in control and they took a 1-0 lead late in the half on a Haley McCusker goal. McCusker and Katie Vieira added second-half tallies as Pilgrim pulled away.
Against a Chieftains team that came in at 6-1-2, it was an impressive performance.
“I knew it was going to be a hard game,” Weber said. “Ponaganset has been playing well, and we’ve been a little up-and-down. Today, we played great. The girls came out with a lot of energy.”
The Pats played with a stiff wind at their backs in the first half. After a back-and-forth first few minutes, Pilgrim took advantage of that wind to keep the ball in the offensive end for long stretches.
For a while, it looked like the Pats would come up empty. Talia D’Ambruoso got a great look from the middle of the box, but Ponaganset goalie Emily Thompson made a diving save. Later, Vieira headed a ball just wide off a D’Ambruoso corner kick.
But just before halftime, the Pats broke through. D’Ambruoso took a corner kick from the right side and lofted a perfect ball to the near post. In traffic, McCusker kicked it out of the air and into the net for the 1-0 lead.
“That was big,” Weber said. “At that point, there was a pretty good wind behind us and you want to come away with a goal when you have the wind like that.”
In the second half, the wind died down, but it might not have helped the Chieftains that much anyway as the Pats continued to carry the play.
Ponaganset did put a scare into the Pats in the 50th minute. Erica Hammond missed on a clearing kick and the ball trickled behind her. Ponaganset’s Katie Wendt got to it before Pilgrim keeper Hannah Page, but her shot was deflected. It kicked to the right, where Rebecca Doughty missed wide on a shot.
Less than a minute later, Doughty ended up with a clean look in the middle of the box, but her shot hit the cross-bar.
After that, the Pats reasserted themselves and eventually grabbed some breathing room. In the 66th minute, Cara Beneduce pushed a pass up to Vieira on the left side of the box. She was bumped off the ball, but stuck with it, dribbled to her right and buried a shot in the back of the net for the 2-0 lead.
Seven minutes later, D’Ambruoso lifted a cross to McCusker, who won a battle for the ball and ended up with a wide open shot. She didn’t miss it.
“Everybody just did what they had to do today,” Weber said. “Haley played hard and she was focused. Meg Sullivan did a great job distributing the ball. Katie and Talia put a lot of pressure on. Our fullbacks and our halfbacks played great.”
The Pats also got a solid performance in net from Page, a freshman who has been impressive all season.
“She’s a good keeper,” Weber said. “It’s nice to have her.”
Now Pilgrim’s attention turns to EWG, where Page and the defensive unit – Hammond, Heather Wolfenden, Claire Birney and Talia Geremia – will get their toughest test yet. The Scarlet Knights have won the last two D-II championships and are undefeated this year. They’re averaging just over six goals per game.
“That’ll be a test,” Weber said. “I’d like to be able to put a little chink in their armor. If we come to play, we can play with anybody.”
Today’s game is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. at EWG.