Panthers cannot complete upset over No. 1 Virginia in 6-0 season finale loss

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Panthers cannot complete upset over No. 1 Virginia in 6-0 season finale loss

The Pitt women's soccer team fell in its ACC opener against Louisville on Saturday night.  Andrew Shin | Staff Photographer

The Pitt women's soccer team fell in its ACC opener against Louisville on Saturday night. Andrew Shin | Staff Photographer

The Pitt women's soccer team fell in its ACC opener against Louisville on Saturday night. Andrew Shin | Staff Photographer

The Pitt women's soccer team fell in its ACC opener against Louisville on Saturday night. Andrew Shin | Staff Photographer

By Adam Richman / for The Pitt News

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After achieving its winningest season in program history, Pitt’s women’s soccer team couldn’t cap the run with a monumental upset win.

Squaring off against No. 1 Virginia on Saturday, Pitt’s women’s soccer team fell in a largely one-sided competition, 6-0, in which the Cavaliers scored five first-half goals against the Panthers in Pitt’s final game of the season.

The match’s first 10 minutes provided plenty of back and forth action, with Pitt (10-7-1, 4-6-0 ACC) and Virginia (15-1-0, 9-1-0 ACC) managing to place a few shots on net. While the Cavaliers failed to convert on their opportunities due to a lack of execution, the Panthers failed to convert because of a faster and stronger Virginia backline smothering any opportunities.

After a promising early effort from Pitt, Virginia recovered and systematically broke the Panthers down, scoring three goals in a three minute span near the end of the first half that eliminated any hope of a Pitt win.

Twenty minutes into the game, Pitt seemed to have finally found a formula to beat Virginia’s speed, with the game still tied at 0-0. Instead of dribbling around without momentum, the Panthers began making shorter, crisper passes.

Forward Taylor Pryce initiated the first scoring opportunity for Pittsburgh, as she fed the ball down the left side of the field to an uncovered, sprinting Roosa Arvas. As Pitt’s forward dribbled inside the box toward the net, she took a shot that soared passed Virginia goalkeeper Morgan Stearns. But UVA defender Emily Sonnett threw her body in front of the net just in time to prevent the goal.

Following the blocked shot, Virginia began to dominate both the possession and the scoring.

In the 25th minute, Virginia started its scoring frenzy from a corner kick. Crowding the net, the Cavaliers made it nearly impossible for Pitt goalkeeper Taylor Francis to see the incoming ball. Midfielder Betsy Brandon rebounded the ball into the bottom left corner of the net.

Just three minutes later, after a powerful assist from defender Tina Iordanou, Brandon found the back of the net again, notching the score at 2-0.

But Virginia’s barrage of goals didn’t end at two.

Cavaliers forward Makenzy Doniak contributed to another pair of scores, tallying both an assist and a goal in the last five minutes of the first half. The second goal was an unassisted shot directly over Francis’ outstretched hand, giving Virginia a 4-0 lead.

With the final seconds winding down in the first half, Virginia midfielder Alexis Shaffer possessed the ball at the top of the box. As she turned around, she finessed a shot towards the top right corner of the net, to which Francis was helpless. Virginia had increased its lead to 5-0 via a three-goal frenzy.

Pitt forward Taylor Pryce said the Cavaliers’ scoring momentum helped suppress the Panthers.

“I think we had a mental break. Once we let in one [goal], it led to a second, and all of a sudden we just broke down and didn’t know how to handle the pressure,” Pryce said.

Pitt head coach Greg Miller said the team’s first half struggles stemmed from Virginia’s relentless barrage, and that the team didn’t seem ready.

“I think we were just a little shell-shocked. We lost a lot of our attacking mentality and our spunk,” Miller said.

The Panthers’ second half of play didn’t improve much upon the first.

The blowout continued in the 61st minute, as Virginia forward Brittany Ratcliffe threaded the ball to Shaffer, who was standing directly in front of the goal. Shaffer quickly tapped the ball into the net, earning her second goal of the night and her team’s sixth.

Even while allowing five goals in the first half, though, Francis made some impressive stops for the Panthers. On multiple occasions, she snared bullets from close range and also made a few diving saves.

Pryce said the team will remember this result next season and try to improve its mental focus.

“Going into next season, we just have to be engaged for all 90 minutes of the game,” she said.

After the game, Miller said he isn’t judging his team’s entire season based on the final rough game, and pointed to the team’s improvement over last season, when it finished 6-12-0.

“[This season] was an absolute success. No question. You just hate to go out like this because we are so much better,” Miller said. “It’s just hard to end our best season ever on that note.”

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