PANAMA - The statistics were impressive.
Twenty-eight goals scored, far and away the most in Division 3, 14 of which were tallied by one player, Morgan Zlockie, ranking her seventh-best in all of Section 6. Also, just one goal allowed in league play - scored over three games and 220 minutes ago; and a perfect league record with eight straight victories.
So when the Ellicottville Lady Eagles (9-2-1), who have reached the Class D state final four in each of the past two seasons, traveled to Panama to square off against a team that, though improving, had lost five of its past eight games, conventional wisdom suggested that perhaps the game would quickly get out of hand.
Panama’s Kirsten Green, left, tries to control the ball in front of an Ellicottville player during Wednesday’s Division 3 girls soccer game. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J photo by Rob Tucker
Led by freshman goaltender Rebekah Whitmore, who was busy in the nets with 14 saves, stopper Bri Marsh, who aided her goaltender by halting a number of scoring opportunities, the Lady Panthers trailed just 1-0 at half and stayed within striking distance for much of the second before stumbling late on the way to a 2-0 defeat.
Despite the loss, Panama coach Rob Pawlak couldn't have been much happier with his squad's effort on a cloudy Wednesday afternoon.
"Bri had a monster game, a great game, you pick the adjective," Pawlak said with a laugh, "and the (defense in general) played a heck of game as well."
With the victory, Ellicottville, which has just four games remaining on its schedule and a 4-game lead on the division, is all but guaranteed yet another league title while Panama (3-6, 3-7), with games against West Valley (3-3) and Pine Valley (3-4) remaining, are still very much in the playoff mix.
"Ellicottville will be the top seed because I can't see anybody knocking them off the rest of the way," Pawlak explained. "We have key games (coming up) against West Valley and Pine Valley, who we already beat once, so we're still in it but it's going to be tight as far as seedings go."
Zlockie, true to form, tallied both goals for the victors, giving her 16 for the season.
The first came six minutes into the contest, when she fired a low, bouncing shot from just inside the area that Whitmore, though she managed to get her hands on the ball, was unable to grasp.
"That first one was tough," Pawlak said, "because we would have been right there if (if it hadn't gone in). But (Rebekah) has done amazing. I want to give her all the credit. She's improved each game."
Ellicottville kept up the pressure in the second half, peppering Whitmore with shots. Finally, with 12 minutes remaining in the contest, Zlockie tallied the second and final goal following a pass from teammate Haley Musall.
"I think our touch on the ball and our aggression to the touch was much better," Ellicottville coach Mary Neilon said of the Lady Eagles' improved play in the final half. "We had much better support around the ball."
While the Panama defense was working overtime throughout the battle, its offense was unable to get any meaningful opportunities. The Lady Panthers could muster just three shots on goal against keeper Liz Wendel.
Panama is back in action on Friday with a crucial contest at West Valley set for a 5 p.m. start.