Panthers outduel Wolfpack behind Robinson shutout, win 2-0

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Joy Cao | Senior Staff Photographer

Pitt’s Chloe Minas prepares to kick a ball at a game against North Carolina State University at Ambrose Urbanic Field on Thursday night.

By Alexander Ganias, Staff Writer

Pitt women’s soccer (11-7, 4-6 ACC) completed its 2021 regular season at home with a 2-0 win Thursday against the North Carolina State Wolfpack (8-8-2, 4-6 ACC).

The Panthers needed to finish in the top six of the ACC standings to qualify for the conference tournament, but after Louisville fell to Duke, Pitt finished ninth overall out of 14 teams. Head coach Randy Waldrum understood that his program needs to take little steps in order to really compete at a high level.

“You gotta be a team in the middle of the pack,” Waldrum said. “You have to beat the Virginia Techs and the NC States. Those teams are in the middle, and that’s where we have to position ourselves.”

The Panthers came off a deflating loss against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, where the visiting Deacons overcame a 1-0 deficit, scoring two second-half goals in the span of a minute. Pitt couldn’t level the score and lost 2-1 on their home turf, making a potential conference tournament berth impossible.

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Pitt still had one more game to play and came out swinging in the first half with 15 shots to NC State’s four. The first great chance for the Panthers came in the 13th minute. Junior forward Landy Mertz crossed the ball across the 18-yard-box, where first-year midfielder Ellie Coffield one-timed a shot on goal. Wolfpack first-year goalkeeper Maria Echezarreta reacted quickly to make a kick save to keep the match scoreless.

Junior forward Amanda West had her fair share of chances as well, including one in the 18th minute that went over the crossbar and another in the 25th minute, which went wide. She finally broke through in the 33rd minute, when she collected a pass from sophomore midfielder Chloe Minas and dribbled through the NC State defense. Her shot from inside the box went right over Echezarreta’s outstretched hand and into the net for the Panther’s first goal and her tenth of the season.

Minas had a chance of her own in the 42nd minute, but Echezarreta dove to push the ball just past the outside of the goalpost. Despite facing seven shots on goal in the first half, the Wolfpack keeper made five saves, helping NC State stay in the game.

Pitt got some insurance in the 43rd minute. Senior defender Hailey Davidson sent the ball into the final third, where sophomore midfielder Emily Yaple headed the ball in the air then headed the ball again past Echzarreta who went out of net to try and bat the ball away. Instead, the ball slowly rolled past the line for Pitt’s second and final goal of the game. Yaple came into the game as a substitute, so she wanted to make the best of the time she was given.

“I knew when I got into the game I had to make an impact,” Yaple said. “We had one goal, but that’s not enough to win. Going in, I gave it all I had.”

The half ended with the Panthers leading 2-0.

Neither side scored in the second half, but they weren’t without their opportunities. NC State started the half fast with a shot from first-year defender Fernanda Soto, but Pitt senior goalkeeper Katherine Robinson made the easy save. She finished the night with five saves and the shutout.

Robinson needed a little help in the 57th minute to preserve that shutout however. Soto collected the loose ball and fired a shot past an off-balance Robinson, but senior defender Kate McKay parked herself in front of the empty net and blocked the shot to keep the Wolfpack off the board.

Waldrum was pleased with how his squad responded after the loss to Wake Forest.

“I thought our last game against Wake, we lost our composure in the second half,” Waldrum said. “But everything went right today, and it was probably our most solid performance season.”

Pitt registered nine shots with three on goal in the second half. NC State improved on its shot totals from the first half with seven in the second, three of which were on goal. In all, the Panthers outshot the Wolfpack 24 to 11.

The Wolfpack made a last-ditch effort in the 89th minute, when Soto again shot the ball from the box and over the heads of several defenders. Robinson made one final jumping save to finish the game and the regular season, securing a 2-0 Panther victory.

Despite not qualifying for the ACC tournament, Waldrum still believes that the season is not yet officially over.

“Well I’m not ready to call it the last game yet,” Waldrum said. “I think this might be a win that gets us in [the NCAA tournament], so we’re hopeful.”

Waldrum also said he was proud of how his team performed throughout the regular season, regardless of the setbacks.

“It’s been a difficult year for us with the injuries to key players, but we persevered and got through it,” Waldrum said. “There were a lot of positives to come out of this season.”

Yaple, who will be a junior next season, said she will embrace her new role as a veteran next year.

“Hopefully being one of the older girls on the team, I can step up even more,” she said. “I want to show the younger girls how much we all want to win.”

The Panthers will wait to see if they earned a berth in the NCAA tournament. The selection show will stream on the NCAA website on Nov. 8 at 4:30 p.m.