Thursday, September 10, 2015

Eastern tops Big Sky foe Idaho in non-league game

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A pair of programs continuing to grow in their second year under new coaches met up Monday in their last non-conference match-up scheduled prior to Idaho re-joining the Big Sky Conference. In a back-and-forth affair, Eastern Washington picked up a 2-1 victory at home thanks to a goal and assist from Chloe Williams in a one-minute span in the first half.

Williams' offensive outburst marked a change in the momentum of the match as the Vandals were controlling the opening stages of the contest with relatively uncontested possession and movement of the ball in the midfield. Idaho's early dominance nearly led to a goal just six minutes in when Clara Gomez drove to goal up the left side before releasing a shot from a 16 yards that smacked off the right post, rebounding out to Olivia Baggerly, whose follow-up went high.

The Eagles began to create some attack little by little and in the 23rd minute a foul on Devan Talley as she drove toward the box on the right side created the big opening. With the ball placed just outside the area, the Eagles used a well-designed set play to take the lead with the ball being played forward to Chloe Williams, who had put herself in an open space further out to the right. Williams then drove a few yards to goal before letting loose a shot into the far back corner of the goal."

"We had to change our shape a bit to kind of help our kids out. Idaho played a diamond four in the middle and we were outnumbered," said EWU Head Coach Chad Bodnar.  "They started the game well and we were kind of on our back heels a little bit. I thought the second part of the half we played pretty well - we looked dangerous and scored some good goals."

Stunned by the opening tally, the Vandals found themselves down by two 63 seconds later when a ball straight forward by Williams to Delaney Romero on the run split two defenders, allowing her to fire past the keeper from about 14 yards uncontested.

"I thought we started pretty well in the first 10-15 minutes, doing what we were supposed to do and that's what helped us create a number of chances early on. But, we obviously didn't finish them," said Idaho Head Coach Derek Pittman. "And a team like Eastern they are good enough to punish you if you if you give them a chance. We worked very hard to make sure they couldn't play through the middle of the park, but unfortunately we started to allow them to do that in the first half and that's where I think they got their momentum which ultimately shifted there a little bit midway through the first half with their two goals and started causing ourselves some problems we should have done better with."

Idaho began to create some more momentum in the second half with runs into offensive third and 16 minutes into the period it finally paid off. A short clearance to midfield came to Claire Johnson on the right side of midfield. She drove forward a bit before delivering a ball up the right side to Kavita Battan, who continued her run into the box, before cutting back and to the middle to create some space off the challenging defender. She drove a few more yards before slicing a swerving shot from about 13 yards out that was out of reach of the keeper.

"Happy with our team and how they responded in the second half," Pittman said. "We got back to doing what we are capable of, which is limiting a team's opportunities going forward while counterattacking with creating enough chances on our own to really get back into the game. We just got to get better in front of the goal and score the opportunities that we are creating. It's nice that we are creating them but we got to do a better job and actually go ahead and finish them; and not dig ourselves a hole like we did in the first half."

Within the next two minutes Eastern nearly answered with Williams sending a shot over the goal, and then Idaho nearly had an equalizer on a series of shots inside the box with a shot from Olivia Baggerly hitting from about seven that was tipped up by goalkeeper Mallory Taylor, eventually coming down to Gomez, whose well-paced effort from about eight yards out was nicely snared by Taylor.

"The second half I think we just bunkered in and stopped playing completely. We are talking to our kids about trying to finish and play complete games, but we are young," said Bodnar. "Those are freshman and sophomores out there playing so it will come. We just got to get through games like this and credit to 'em for finding a way to win.

"We are 3-1-1, and I think that's a great start for being a new program. Trying to take things where we want take them with a bunch of freshman, sophomore kids that are out playing a lot of minutes I can't complain. We had one really bad half against UC Davis, but seeing some really good things and seeing some things we gotta get better at.

"We have a big road trip - seven days in the midwest," Bodnar said of what lies ahead. "I think its good. We are gonna get to know each other and have some time on the road and play an NCAA tournament team in Valparaiso on Friday. I think its a great test for us to kinda see where we are at there. We'll just go play - we know nothing about the opponents really other than what we see on the live streams. Just gonna go play and try and to get better every time out."

Idaho's effort to tie things up made for a dramatic, frantic finish. Another flurry inside the area nearly produced the equalizer about five minutes from time. A free kick about 40 yards out by Elexis Schlossarek was met by Taylor, just inches from the head of Alyssa Lloyd. Unable to catch it, the ball rebounded out to the left side of the six, where Kelly Dopke headed it back to the open goal only to be denied by a goal-line clearance by Jenny Chavez, who nodded it away and saw the play come to an end with Baggerly shooting wide.

"I am really happy with where we are. I think we are playing good soccer. I think we are defending well as a team," said Pittman. "I think we are creating enough opportunities in the attack, but we still have a number of things we got to clean up. But, I am really happy with where this group is at right now. Excited about the next few games as we get prepared for our trip to Memphis, and ultimately get ready for Big Sky where every game is a battle and every game is tight . So, you can't let teams like Eastern, where - hats off to Chad and their staff - they are doing a great job. We just got to put ourselves in a better position to go ahead and get a hold of the game when we have the chances.

"Happy with the players we have brought in, happy with the players that have returned. We got a nucleus of players that have really bought in to how we are playing and the things we are trying to do, but we are also still a bit young and we have to clean up some of the details," Pittman said of the program's progress in his second year. "For me that's where ultimately good teams or solid teams become great or better. And taking that next step is cleaning up the details and making sure that we don't let things don't slip through the cracks with a lack of focus or a lack of effort. Our team works very hard and they do a good job, but we just got those next steps and it's not good enough to just reside where we are at. This team wants it. They are hard working and hopefully the results will pay off for us."

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