Coach Montgomery after the game.

Despite losing, the East Carolina women’s soccer team played its best game of the season Friday, losing 2-0 in its opening conference loss to Cincinnati.

The Pirates withstood Cincinnati’s unrelenting pressure, but could not finish on their own opportunities.

After a slow start of only getting the ball to their offensive side twice in the first 15 minutes, the Pirates seemed to flip a switch and dominate time of possession for the remainder of the first half.

ECU carried its momentum through the second half until an unlucky break resulted in the Bearcats’ second goal of the contest in the 79th minute to seal the deal.

The Bearcats defended a furious Pirate offensive attack. ECU had a season-high 18 shots. Senior Lana Spitler lead the attack with seven shots on frame with three on goal, followed by Annah Lindberg and Courtney Cash’s three shots apiece with one directly on goal. Midfielder Marianna Shurina played a season-high 88 minutes and landed her two shots on goal as well.

“They really do a good job pressing the ball. You saw in the first half there was a second we couldn’t get out of our own end,” ECU head coach Rob Donnenwirth said.

In the 36th minute, ECU goalie Caroline Jeffers beat a Bearcat forward to a loose ball just outside the box, but was issued a yellow card for an illegal slide tackle. The ensuing play was a free kick for Cincinnati, as it sent up leading scorer Julie Gavorski to take the shot. From just outside 18 yards, Gavorski sent an untouched dart past ECU’s five-man wall, which screened Jeffers and sailed past her into the upper right corner to make the score 1-0.

After figuring out how to play against the Bearcat team, which had the size advantage in height and muscle, the Pirates’ set plays off of corners and open field switches started shedding light.

Midfielder Rachel Renfrow fixed the defensive breakdown for the Pirates when she began winning 50/50 balls that gained possession back for the Pirates offense. Her challenges sparked teammates such as Annah Lindberg, who began winning more headers, and defender Jayda Hylton-Pelaia got her defensive line to show a little more hustle.

“This is the start of conference play so this is the time to step it up. These games really count,” Renfrow said. “I think everyone picked it up. We play for each other.”

Despite having the ball more and showing more hustle on the field, ECU never got to Cincinnati. Sloppy passing and questionable calls by the referees consistently took the wind out of the Pirates’ sail.

The Pirates had almost double the fouls called against them, at a 13-7 disadvantage. Still, ECU outshot Cincinnati 18-10, and could have changed the score if it wasn’t for some great saves by Natalie Smith, the Bearcats’ goalie.

“We have players that are good finishers and their keeper made a few good saves for them. In the end, that's the difference," Donnenwirth said.

Smith tallied a total of eight saves and her heroics began when she robbed Lindberg of a goal in the 44th minute. Lindberg’s shot came from a lengthy distance outside the 18 and appeared to fully cross the goalline after she had Smith beat, but a questionable call from the referee waved it off.

Early in the second half, Spitler sent Cash’s pass centimeters left of the net, once again having Smith beat. Smith saved the best for last, when she saved a shot by Renfrow that narrowly missed again when her outside shot was punched up and over the net with one hand.

“We need to work on finishing, we were there. We missed it by centimeters,” Renfrow said.

After three consecutive possessions with quality shots on goal from Renfrow, Spitler and Reeves, the Pirates watched their dominating style of play go unrewarded. Bearcat forward Jordan Cotleur received a lucky pass from Taylor Jackson, that deflected of an ECU defender, and led to a header that was just missed by an unsuspecting Jeffers.

“I think it was good that we were able to work on a lot of specific things on the field, and I think that really helped us,” Donnenwirth said. “I thought we defended their set pieces very well except they had one free kick they scored on. We improved in a lot of areas, but it didn’t get us the win tonight.”

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