Short-handed No. 20 Pitt women’s soccer tops Towson, 2-1, in Sunday matinee

No.+20+Pitt+women%E2%80%99s+soccer+completed+its+three-game+homestand+with+a+2-0+victory+over+the+Towson+Tigers+on+a+clear+Sunday+afternoon.+They+finished+their+non-conference+schedule+with+a+7-1+record.+Pictured+is+junior+forward+Landy+Mertz+dribbling+the+ball.+

Jamie Cohen | For The Pitt News

No. 20 Pitt women’s soccer completed its three-game homestand with a 2-0 victory over the Towson Tigers on a clear Sunday afternoon. They finished their non-conference schedule with a 7-1 record. Pictured is junior forward Landy Mertz dribbling the ball.

By Alexander Ganias, Staff Writer

No. 20 Pitt women’s soccer (7-1, 0-0 ACC) had to adjust on the fly Sunday afternoon. Already down their best scorer against Towson, the Panthers lost another starter midway through the contest.

But despite being short-handed this weekend, the Panthers completed their three-game homestand with a 2-0 victory over the Tigers (4-2-2, 0-0 CAA) on a clear Sunday afternoon. Pitt, clad in bright yellow kits, finished their non-conference schedule with a 7-1 record after downing Towson.

Pitt also celebrated its seniors on Sunday — goalkeeper Katherine Robinson, defender Kate McKay and midfielder Celia Lopez. The Panthers players and coaches honored the three seniors with a pregame ceremony and framed jerseys. Assistant coach Ben Waldrum reflected on what the seniors meant to the program postgame.

“They’ve been great for us,” he said. “When we got here, we were kind of on the ground floor of what we’re building, and they’ve been vital for us every step of the way.”

Robinson and McKay both got starts for the Panthers on Senior Day, and Lopez got several minutes off the bench. 

The Panthers were short-handed on Sunday as new and old injuries kept key players out of action. Junior forward Amanda West —- Pitt’s second best goal-scorer — was out with an undisclosed injury, marking this her third straight missed game. 

Pitt lost another player in the 30th minute. As the ball rolled toward the goal, junior forward Landy Mertz went down with an apparent ankle injury. She would walk off the field with the help of two trainers — later returning from the locker room with two crutches and a walking boot.

Waldrum gave an update for both Mertz and West, while also explaining that the depth has played an important role in their absence. 

“We’ll find out about Landy in the next day or so, and West has started doing non-contact activities, so we’ll see what happens on the road trip,” he said. “But we have other options. It’s not a one-person show anymore, and we’re confident with the next-man-up mentality.”

After kickoff, the Panthers went right to work pressuring the Tiger defense. Pitt attempted several shots that would just miss wide of the net or over the crossbar. McKay had one of those shots in the 10th minute, and junior midfielder Anna Bout had another one in the 17th. She got the ball in front of the net, but put it over the crossbar.

Junior forward Leah Pais also had a great chance in the 23rd minute. Off a corner kick, the ball bounced around inside the 18-yard box before falling to Pais within 15 feet of the goal. She hesitated for a mere fraction of a second before shooting, as if she was stunned with how much room she had. But that was more than enough time for Towson’s sophomore goalkeeper Riley Melendez to react, make the save and prevent the rebound.

Both sides traded opportunities in the remaining minutes, but neither scored in the first half. Pitt finished the period with 19 total shots and three on goal, while Towson only had three shots with two on goal. Robinson knew the defense had to be there to help the lagging offense in the first half.

“It’s definitely very important that we do our jobs as best we can,” she said. “We have to rely on the defense when we can’t get going on offense.”

Pitt came out sputtering in the second half, with Towson coming very close to breaking the scoreless tie multiple times. On a Tiger corner kick in the 58th minute, sophomore forward Jasmine Hamid shot the ball, and it deflected about 50 feet in the air. Robinson timed her jump just right to push the ball over the crossbar.

The Panthers tallied more shots, but they came from distance and without a plan to crash the net afterward. This changed in the 65th minute, when Bout found first-year midfielder Ellie Coffield in the 6-yard box. Melendez bit on the shot fake and Coffield gently sent the ball to first-year forward Sarah Schupansky, who headed it into the yawning net.

Pitt held that lead for the rest of the game, but the Tigers didn’t leave Ambrose without a fight. Towson sophomore forward Mia Christopher took the ball at midfield in the 71st minute and ran all the way to the goal without much resistance. She wound up for a shot from 12 yards out, but Robinson dove and made a fantastic save to keep Towson off the board.

Robinson later said she knew she had to always be ready for opportunities like that.

“We can’t switch off no matter who we’re playing,” she said. “Even if you’re not having a busy day, you have to be ready.”

Robinson would finish with four saves and the shutout victory.

Schupansky added one more goal with an 83rd minute penalty kick. A Towson defender tripped her in the 18-yard box, and she buried her penalty shot on the right side. The horn sounded seven minutes later, and the Panthers won 2-0. Despite Towson outshooting Pitt in the second half 13-9, the defense never broke, and the home team picked up their sixth shutout of the young season.

The Panthers will kick off their conference schedule with a Thursday night road matchup at Clemson. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. and will air on the ACC Network. This is the first of a three-game road trip, which will feature a matchup against No. 1 Florida State on September 23. Waldrum understood the potential difficulties with this trip, but he knows how his team feels going into it.

“We’re definitely confident,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going into ACC games hoping to win, we’re going in expecting to win.”

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