Pitt snaps winless streak, shuts out Syracuse at home


Jonathan Guo | Staff Photographer

Pitt sophomore forward Sarah Schupansky (5) kicks the ball during Thursday’s game against Syracuse.

By Alexander Ganias, Staff Writer

No. 20 Pitt women’s soccer (12-3-1, 5-2-1 ACC) is in the home stretch of their regular season.

The Panthers hosted Syracuse (8-6-2, 1-4-2 ACC) in the first of three home games to finish their season and defeated the Orange 2-0. This gives them 16 points through 16 matches with two left to play. Head coach Randy Waldrum admitted he was watching the standings and the scoreboard, but said his team can’t let that affect them.

“We know we can’t control what the other teams do,” he said. “You’re in trouble if you’re counting on someone else to do the job for you.”

The Panthers started quickly with a few chances in the first five minutes. Sophomore forward Sarah Schupansky shot the ball from distance in the fourth minute, but it sailed wide of the net. The Orange had their own chance just a minute later, when graduate student forward Chelsea Domond fooled Pitt senior defender Ashton Gordon. But the shot dribbled past the net for no score.

Those were each team’s best chances in the next 30-plus minutes. Both teams combined for four corner kicks in the first half, but Syracuse ended up with more shots — five to the Panthers’ three. Two of those shots for Pitt came in the 14th minute, but the Syracuse defense easily blocked them.

Waldrum spoke on the defensive inefficiencies in the first half.

“I thought we were a little bit slow and sluggish in the first half,” he said. “We didn’t handle their verticality the way we had hoped.”

Pitt also committed five fouls in the first half, including Gordon’s yellow card in the 30th minute, but that seemed to finally wake the Panthers up. Senior midfielder Landy Mertz stole a pass and drove close to the net and crossed the ball right in front of the net in the 38th minute, but no one was home to finish the job.

The Panthers broke through right before the halftime whistle sounded. Schupansky took a pass at midfield and drove up the far sideline. When she got to the 18-yard box, she crossed the ball to sophomore midfielder Bri Hilsenteger, who corralled the ball and picked off the top right corner of the net for the game’s first goal. The Panthers exited the half up 1-0.

Hilsenteger helped change the Panther’s momentum with her second goal of the year.

“It gave our team a little more confidence,” she said. “We were a little shaky [in the first half], but the second half was a lot better.”

But despite the lead, the Orange outperformed the Panthers in other categories and they came out swinging in the second half with immediate pressure in the half’s first couple of minutes. Syracuse graduate student forward Blue Ellis put a shot on net, but senior goalkeeper Caitlyn Lazzarini saved it with ease and kept Syracuse off the board. Lazzarini finished the match with four saves.

Pitt responded with another chance in the 52nd minute, when Schupansky found Mertz cutting towards the net. She beat her defender but Syracuse first-year goalkeeper Shea Vanderbosch made the save out of bounds. While Pitt continued to pressure afterwards, including a header on net from senior midfielder Anna Bout, the Orange defense didn’t allow those shots to break the plane.

Senior midfielder and Pitt’s leader in goals Leah Pais had a chance in the 70th minute, after a cross found her boot. But she pushed the shot just wide of the net, in another wasted opportunity for the Panthers. Waldrum talked about the amount of their empty possessions in the match.

“I would be worried about us if we weren’t creating the chances,” Waldrum said. “At this point in the season it’s about getting the result, and as long we create enough, we’ll get the goals that we need.”

Some of those chances didn’t break through because Vanderbosch made multiple acrobatic saves. Mertz’s shot from distance in the 78th minute looked like a certain goal, but the first-year keeper went airborne and punched it over the crossbar. Sophomore midfielder Ellie Coffield had a similar chance in the 85th minute and saw the same result. Vanderbosch finished the night with six saves.

But she pushed her luck a little too far in the 86th minute when she went for a loose ball in the 18-yard box. She tripped while Schupansky collected the rebound and rolled it into the back of the net. Her sixth goal of the season gave Pitt a 2-0 lead, which it held until the final whistle. 

Hilsenteger explained that bouncing back after their recent three-game winless streak was very important, especially at the end of the season.

“We need to secure these wins,” she said. “We have to go into these games and play our hardest regardless of the standing.”

The Panthers will host the reigning national champions Florida State on Sunday, Oct. 23. ACC Network Extra will broadcast the game starting at 1 p.m.