Winthrop High School players, including Nora Conrad (1), Layne Audet (15) and Kinli DiBiase, center, celebrate after Bre Feeney scored the only goal of the game as Spruce Mountain goalie Sydney Shafter collects herself during their game in Winthrop on Friday.
WINTHROP — Eight times, Winthrop High School’s penalty corner sets appeared to have an open shot or lane through which to fire the ball. Eight times, the ball skipped or hopped, or a defender darted from the goal line to intercept the chance.
On the Rambers’ ninth try, they finally found the back of the cage. Barely.
Bre Feeney finished a tic-tac play from Katie Perkins and Moriah Hajduk with a tip-in past Spruce Mountain keeper Sydney Shafter with 14:57 to play in regulation Friday to lift Winthrop to a 1-0 win over the visiting Phoenix in an MVC field hockey showdown.
“It actually worked,” Winthrop coach Jessica Merrill said, tongue firmly in cheek. “We’ve actually been scoring more on our corners lately than we did earlier in the season. It was nice to see them get one in again after missing earlier in the game.”
The Ramblers have played more games than any other Class C team this season to date — and they’ve won them all, sitting now at 7-0 to start the 14-game regular season. Friday’s game, though, was different.
“They did a really good job on coming out fast on us, making us adjust faster than we wanted to,” Merrill said. “They are definitely the best team we’ve seen so far.”
“The girls are frustrated, but they showed Winthrop that they can play with them,” Spruce Mountain coach Tanya Evans said. “If it hadn’t been for that little deflection, we might be in overtime. The girls gave Winthrop all they wanted.”
The first half passed quickly. The only clock stoppage was for a Winthrop timeout about midway through the stanza.
During that first half, the Phoenix (2-2) peppered Winthrop keeper Aiva Agri with nine shots despite not earning a single penalty corner try.
“I think that surprised them a little bit,” Evans said. “There was that pressure. We’ve been working hard on that kind of pressure in practice, but we just couldn’t get it to fall today.”
The Ramblers, meanwhile, earned five penalty corners in the first half, but had only two shots to show for it.
Through the middle of the second, Winthrop rebounded and kept the pressure on the Spruce Mountain defense, ultimately earning their ninth — and final — penalty corner try with about 15 minutes to play. On the insertion, the ball ricocheted to Hajduk, who tapped the ball across the top of the circle to Perkins, who then drilled the ball toward the cage. The ball skipped over sticks and past Shafter, and then off Feeney’s stick and into the cage.
“We knew Winthrop likes to live and die by feeding the post (players),” Evans said. “We’ve worked hard in practice maintaining that man-to-man pressure to make sure that we’re within that stick length to prevent that cherry-picking on the post. And we did that today. The one that went in was right down the middle, and a deflection, and the goalie couldn’t do anything about it.”
After the goal, the Ramblers readjusted their lineup to play a more defensive game. The Phoenix battled through it, and in the final three minutes, spent nearly the whole time in the Winthrop end. The Ramblers’ defense and keeper held on.
“I moved Moriah back to center back, and Katie stayed in the midfield,” Merrill said. “To see our junior back stay composed like that — they hadn’t seen pressure like that this year — that was good. I’m proud of them.”
Spruce Mountain High School’s Erin McPherson, left, and Winthrop High School’s Kerrigan Anuszewski battle for the ball during their game in Winthrop on Friday.Spruce Mountain’s Emily Castonguay, right, reaches for a ball that just went wide of the net as Winthrop goalie Aiva Agri hustles back into position during their game in Winthrop on Friday.Winthrop High School’s Kerrigan Anuszewski, right, and Spruce Mountain’s Hanni Johnson battle for a ball during their game in Winthrop on Friday.Spruce Mountain’s Rylee Saunders, right, maneuvers ahead of Winthrop High School’a Kerrigan Anuszewski during their game in Winthrop on Friday.Spruce Mountain goalie Sydney Shafter (75) stares down a shot from Winthrop High School’s Hanna Caprara (2) while Winthrop’s Bre Feeney looks on at right during their game in Winthrop on Friday.Winthrop High School’s Kinli DiBiase, left, runs ahead of Spruce Mountain’s Morgan Dalton during their game in Winthrop on Friday.