By Josh Perry, Managing Editor
Click HERE for a photo gallery from the game.
NORTH EASTON, Mass. – Last year, when Franklin and Oliver Ames met in the first game of the girls’ soccer season, the Panthers dominated with a number of scoring chances that weren’t put away. In the end, keeper Dani Lonati saved the Panthers from those wasted chances by stopping a late penalty kick and earning a point.
This year, the roles were reversed in the second half at Muscato Stadium. Oliver Ames dominated the ball in the second half, pushing forward, and controlling the center of the pitch, but struggled to put away the chances that it created.
In the dying seconds, sophomore goalie Regan Benton made her third huge save of the half, diving out at the feet of Meg Adams, to stop a breakaway and ensure the battle of reigning league champions finished 0-0.
“When we had our chances, we couldn’t put them on frame,” said OA coach Britt Sellmayer. “We had some chances to shoot and they either went wide or were from too far out and with a keeper like Dani it needs to be in the corner with some pace on it.”
Franklin coach Tom Geysen added, “We’re fortunate that we’re getting out of here without a loss. That’s how he (Sellmayer) felt last year. It’s a forward step in some areas and some work to do in others.”
The first half was a midfield battle with neither team able to create much in the way of consistent attack. The game was not helped by the temperatures soaring into the 90s, which felt even hotter on the sun-drenched turf. Both teams utilized their benches frequently to make sure the players would not wear down.
Sellmayer explained, “It’s the team-first attitude I’ve talked to them about. I’m going to play a lot of players. I might have done longer shifts, instead of seven minutes I might have done nine or 10, but I’m just keeping them fresh.”
Franklin had two chances, a Megan Georges shot and a Victoria Stowell free kick, in the opening 20 minutes that forced Benton into saves, although neither was particularly difficult. Kiana Lozzi nearly broke the game open in the 26th minute with s strong run at the heart of the Franklin defense but her shot from 20 yards out would not curl enough to sneak into the corner of the net.
The best chance of the first half fell to Franklin senior Alexis Stowell in the 37th minute. Adams won a header towards the edge of the box and Bailey Knous hustled to steal it from the defender and cut it back to Stowell but her first-time shot from the edge of the six-yard box was saved at the near post by Benton.
The second half was more one-sided with OA imposing its style on the game. The Tigers are a strong, physical squad and like the ball in the air where midfielder Francesca Calabraro controlled the game.
“Francesca was dominant in the middle today,” said Sellmayer. “I think she must have had 10-15 headers, which is huge for us. Kiana played stronger in the second half. Things will come.”
Fourteen minutes into the second half, the game suddenly broke into life with a through ball flicked into the path of Lozzi by Julia Roy forced Lonati off her line quickly to save at the forward’s feet. Just seconds later, Franklin had a chance when Alexis Stowell finally snuck in behind the left back and was free on goal only to be denied by Benton again at the near post.
In the 64th minute, Benton was again forced into action when Victoria Stowell found space on the edge of the box and fired a shot that was tipped over the bar. On the ensuing corner, OA broke quickly with junior winger Lauren Wright being played into space down the right and raced the full half of the field only to place her shot inches wide of the post.
A couple minutes later OA again worked space on the right side of the box with Lozzi who turned and cut it back to Calabraro, but she didn’t get full contact on her shot and hit it right at Lonati.
Franklin was struggling to get Stowell, Adams, and Knous into the game, in part because of the solid defending of young outside backs Jaqueline Mills (sophomore) and Zoe Chazan (freshman). Sellmayer marveled, “That’s a big introduction into big time soccer and Zoey and Jackie did a great job on the outside for us today.”
As the game started to wind down, the young Panthers started to come into the game and move the ball from side to side, probing the defense. With four minutes left, Knous had a chance but pulled it just wide and then with the clock stopped at 2:00 Adams suddenly burst onto a through ball in the box.
Trailed by two defenders, Adams stretched to get a shot off but Benton was quick off her line, made herself big, and smothered the chance. There was a big collision and Adams was left punching the turf in frustration that he had not been able to find the late winner.
“When it comes down to it, their keeper came up big for them or it could’ve been a loss,” said Geysen.
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.
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