Evansville forward Sophia Rodil swung her leg back and then forward to strike the ball in pendulum-like fashion, but it deflected off of the scoreboard as part of yet another empty drive for the Aces in the second half.
Through 55 minutes of play, that had been the only time they had touched the scoreboard all game, with Eastern carrying a 1-0 lead.
Though the Aces would break the stasis and score off of Emily Olsen’s goal in the 63rd minute, the Panthers jettisoned all of Evansville’s chances at getting the equalizer, as the Panthers clutched a 2-1 redemptive win on Sunday, after tying Northern Illinois 1-1 on Friday and crumbling 4-0 to Northern Iowa a week ago.
The Evansville win materialized the first exhibition match victory since 2016, though the Panthers lost both preseason games last season, and yet, by finishing third in the conference, found themselves in the semifinals in early November nonetheless.
A mark of four shots on goal to the Aces two would place the onus on Evansville to convert on the opportunities they did have at attacking the net.
After Haylee Rennick got tripped up in the penalty box, Itxaso Aguero booted the ball into the left corner of the net on a penalty kick to jump up 1-0 on Evansville in the seventh minute.
“Honestly, we have been practicing penalties all week, and I always go to the same side,” Aguero said. “So I was confident in kicking the ball there and it was a goal.”
To start the second half, the Evansville forwards probed for ways to exert possession of the ball, which, in the first half, had been dominated by Eastern’s forwards and midfielders by a considerable margin.
The Aces managed to flip the trend early, containing the ball to their side of the field.
“They changed their tactic, the way they went out and pressed us,” said Eastern women’s soccer head coach Jake Plant. “We were a little stubborn to not adapt to that. Good thing to see was that we can see that even though they may have had a few chances- but our goalkeeper wasn’t actually making any saves-it was just a matter of our defenders had to be really, really good, which we ask them to be.”
That did not prevent Eastern senior Sarah DeWolf, however, of locating her fellow forward Pilar Barrio in the open, who tracked down the ball and hammered the ball past the white line to extend the lead to 2-0 with left 30 minutes left in the match.
After Eastern’s second goal, Evansville continued to push the pace and force the Panthers into misreads, posing an intractable issue for Eastern at midfield.
“It was just making sure the girls knew their roles clearly because I think there was a little bit of confusion in the middle of the field of who was picking up who,” Plant said. “Evansville did a good job overloading them in there, so they were a little bit unsure where they should be. Once we fixed that, we could see we had the control back in the game.”
For the two weekend matches, Plant modified the rotations between the first and second halves in these preseason exercises, most notably by retiring goalkeeper Sara Teteak at halftime and replacing her with sophomore Daniela Bermeo.
The revamped Eastern women’s soccer team opened the season with seven additions in the offseason, as seniors Kayla Stolfa, Kate Olsen and Elisabeth Held departed and five underclassmen transferred.
Noticing incremental improvements, built at practice this past week, Plant saw more rhythm and improved fitness in the Northern Illinois match.
He also attested to the fact that the players have arrived at a place where they can articulate what they aspire to accomplish as a collective unit.
“That was a very different-looking team from last Sunday when we lost, to a very positive performance,” Plant said. “So there was stuff we worked on this week was apparent on the field today. So it means we have an eager team willing to learn.”
Tom O’Connor can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]