After the UNCP women’s soccer team attacked early to take the lead at halftime, sophomore goalkeeper Gina Ryan withstood an offensive surge from Lenoir-Rhyne to help the Braves earn a 2-0 victory over the Bears on Saturday night at Lumbee River EMC Stadium.
Lenoir-Rhyne (8-4-1) outshot the hosts 11-2 in the second half after both sides managed three attempts in the first 45 minutes.
“We always talk about efficiency in the final third, and I think this is only the second game this season that we did not outshoot the opponent,” UNCP head coach Lars Andersson said. “They clearly had more shots on goal (10-4), but ultimately the only stat that counts is goals scored, and we were extremely efficient.”
Freshman Alexis Pittman notched her fifth goal of the season in the eleventh minute after recovering a deflection from Lenoir-Rhyne goalkeeper Alayna Morris.
Just over ten minutes later, junior Stacey Scott found the back of the net after assists from sophomores Carly Rochelle and Shannon O’Neill set her up in a one-on-one situation with Morris.
The Bears intensified their attack early in the second half, putting pressure on UNCP’s back line. The Braves (8-3-1) struggled to earn opportunities to add to their lead, an issue that was amplified when Scott left the game with an injury with just under 30 minutes left in the game. Scott currently leads the team with six goals.
Ryan stifled one of Lenoir-Rhyne’s biggest opportunities to score with 19 minutes remaining on the clock. Aqsa Mushtag found an opening inside the box, but Ryan made a diving stop as the ball approached the right corner of the goal.
The Cape Carteret native made two more clutch saves within a span of two minutes late in the contest. The first came on a shot by Taylor Rios in the 84th minute, and the last was a stop on the right side of the goal after a shot by Christina Shimshock.
Five Braves mustered one shot apiece. Four of those attempts were on target. Mushtaq posted a game-high three shots on target to pace the visitors.
Ryan notched her fifth shutout of the season for UNCP while recording 10 saves. Morris picked up a pair of saves for Lenoir-Rhyne.
Pittman is among the team’s leaders in a number of categories. She is second in points (12), goals (5) and shots on goal (14).
A native of Greensboro and alumnus of Southern Guilford, the newcomer is continuing to exceed expectations in her first season as a college athlete.
“A lot of freshmen come in and it takes them a couple of games to get adjusted to college ball,” Andersson said. “For some freshmen who turn out to be phenomenal players, it takes an entire season to get used to the physicality of the college game, the speed of play, the speed of thought required.”
“Alexis, to use an old European expression, ‘rolled off the bus’ and started playing right away. It’s amazing how quick that kid has transitioned from high school and club to college ball. You would’ve thought looking at her that she’s in her second or third year of college ball.”
Five games remain on the schedule for the Braves, with four of them being home contests. UNCP wraps up a two-game hiatus from Peach Belt Conference play on Monday when they host Lees-McCrae. They finish the season by taking on Lander, North Georgia, USC Aiken and Young Harris.
It figures to be a challenging stretch of games as teams fight for positions in the PBC standings, but Andersson is instructing the Braves to not look too far ahead.
“We’re going to have to take it one game at a time,” Andersson said. “That’s the way college soccer is. So many games in such a short period of time. If you start peaking ahead two or three games down the road, your focus needs to be on the game at hand.”
Brandon Tester directs sports coverage at the Pine Needle. You can follow him on Twitter @Tester_Brandon