Coming off an extended break before Sectional 39 play began, the Eastbrook Panthers were not as sharp to start their contest against the Blackford Bruins on Thursday.
Blackford put together a solid gameplan, using their physicality to their advantage and making it tough for Sarah Foulk and company to find many easy scoring opportunities in the early going.
However, a late first-half tally by Naomi Diller helped the Panthers get back on track, and six second-half goals helped punch Eastbrook’s ticket to the Sectional 39 championship in a 7-1 triumph.
While Eastbrook controlled play throughout the first half, the Bruins did not allow the Panthers to get comfortable in their gameplay in the opening 40 minutes. Through-balls and runs, which have been a key to Eastbrook’s offense all year, were not there in the first half as the Bruins packed it in on the defensive end. Additionally, the Bruins were physical, knocking Eastbrook’s attackers off the ball at a consistent rate.
“We haven’t had a game in a week, and I think that showed tonight,” Eastbrook Head Coach Jamie Hallis said. “I think we came out sluggish…but Blackford did a good job of making it hard on us, though. They had a lot of people in front of us, and if we got a breakaway, they got a ton of people back as quickly as they could. They definitely made us work.”
However, the Panthers continued to battle, peppering the Blackford net with shots and keeping the pressure on the Bruins’ defense.
With 1:09 remaining before halftime, Eastbrook midfielder Naomi Diller finally found twine, ripping a shot from 30 yards out to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead.
Diller’s tally seemed to wake the Panthers out of their funk, and in the second half, it was a scoring bonanza.
Behind the strong play of their midfield and the unselfish play of Foulk, the Panthers took control of the contest. In the first six minutes, Johwen McKim doubled Eastbrook’s lead, scoring off an assist from Sarah Foulk, and the Panthers added five more goals in the final 19:46 of play. Foulk recorded a hat trick in eight minutes and 26 seconds of game time, while Eden Brown and Sehdah McKim also scored.
Along with her three goals, Foulk added three assists – all in the second half of play.
“She loves being up front, and that’s her position, but I love having her in the middle,” Hallis said. “I think when she is in the middle, especially with her, Naomi, and Rachel [Manning,] and Chloe [McDaniel], when I have those four in the middle and they’re working together, they find people, they slide it to people, and they just play beautiful soccer. They started looking for each other and stopped trying to go down the middle. I was happy to see that.”
While the Bruins were able to break up the shutout bid with 13 seconds remaining, Eastbrook’s young defensive core held their own all evening, and continue to show improvement and growth with each passing contest.
“I was very happy with my defense tonight,” Hallis said. “I felt like everybody that played did very well. My two centerbacks, Becca Hammond and Estah McKim don’t get enough credit. They are solid every single game. Elizabeth Baker over on the left played a tremendous first half, especially. And then Katie Voris…had a great game, especially in the second half.”
Eastbrook will move on to face Manchester in the Sectional 39 Championship on Saturday evening.
“I definitely think they are going to be out to get us,” Hallis said of Manchester. “We won’t be able to come out flat the way we did tonight. We will really have to work and be mentally prepared for Saturday.”