VESTAL, N.Y. — University of New Hampshire (UNH) women’s soccer (5-2, 2-2) remained winless on the road and fell 1-0 to Binghamton University (2-1, 2-1) on Sunday. Junior goalkeeper Cat Sheppard made nine saves, including one on a penalty kick, but her outstanding performance wasn’t enough to keep the ‘Cats from their second defeat on the season.
Both teams looked to settle in in the opening minutes and possession was evenly shared. The first chance of the game came in the eighth minute of play. Binghamton capitalized on a throw-in in the Wildcats’ half and got the ball into the penalty box. The Bearcats fired in the first shot on goal of the day, but Sheppard lived up to her reputation as one of the best keepers in the conference. The veteran dropped to her right and secured the shot and kept the score even.
Binghamton looked more cohesive as the half went on, registering another shot on goal and making more attacking runs than the ‘Cats. UNH did what they’ve done all season and absorbed the pressure.
Sheppard was up for the task once again in the 23rd minute. She faced another shot from close range and was able to make the quick reaction save. Sheppard’s work wasn’t done as the rebound found a Bearcat’s foot who pivoted and fired on goal. Sheppard was already back on her feet and pounced on the ball for her fourth save of the game.
UNH continued to look for answers in attack with little threat mustered by the forwards in the waning minutes of the half.
At the other end of the pitch, the Bearcats looked to have found their answer against UNH’s defense. Binghamton played a lofted ball into the box and squared it to sophomore midfielder Olivia McKnight. McKnight was all alone on the 6-yard line and side-footed what looked to be a certain goal. However, certain goals are rare against Sheppard, who sprinted to her left and dove to make the stop. The rebound fell to a Bearcat who tried to squeeze it in from a tight angle in the final seconds of the first half. Sheppard was back on her feet and comfortably gathered the shot as the horn sounded. Her fifth and sixth saves of the game kept the score 0-0 at the half.
Sheppard picked up right where she left off to open the second half. The Wildcats keeper made her seventh save from a shot from distance headed for the top corner and made her eighth on the ensuing corner. In the attacking third, the struggles and frustration continued for the UNH attack. Despite two free-kicks in the first 10 minutes of the half, the Wildcats couldn’t manage a shot on target after only tallying one in the first half.
UNH head coach Steve Welham noted that the team didn’t have their best day on attack.
“We weren’t able to create and combine enough, and when we did press and win the ball back, we weren’t able to keep possession,” explained Welham. “We didn’t earn a corner kick today, which is very unlike us, so it is always a tough place to come up here, but we didn’t get the job done.”
The UNH defense finally cracked in the 59th minute. A long ball carried over the backline and found junior forward Stefania Piantadosi. The Bearcat met Kelly in the box and outmuscled the first-year defender. Piantadosi was clear on goal after sending Kelly to the turf. She fired an effort and chose power over placement. The ball screamed past Sheppard on her near post. The ninth shot on goal for Binghamton finally got the better of the Wildcat’s keeper, and UNH now looked up at a 1-0 score.
Things appeared to go from bad to worse for UNH in the 70th minute. Kelly put a challenge in on McKnight in the box, and the referee whistled Kelly for a penalty. Sophomore Victoria McKnight stepped up to take the kick with only 12 yards and Cat Sheppard standing between her and a 2-0 lead. The shot was low and to the left, but so was Sheppard, who read the kick perfectly and made a critical stop to keep UNH within striking distance.
Welham cited Sheppard as the reason the Wildcats were able to keep the game so close.
“Cat had her best game of the year; I think by a mile. She was outstanding. She was our MVP today. She kept us in the game. I think if she can put performances like that together, we can go a long way this year.”
UNH still needed a goal to tie the game and began to pour the pressure on. Despite their efforts to create chances, the Wildcats attack remained tame. With 10 minutes to play, an equalizer felt out of reach. The attack that had been so dangerous to start the year looked lost and disjointed on Sunday. A week before, UNH equalized the score in the final four minutes of regulation but saw no such luck this time around. The defeat is UNH’s second on the year and drops them to .500 in conference play.
UNH will face Stony Brook (4-2, 4-0) Friday, April 9, in Durham. The ‘Cats are undefeated at home, and the Seawolves are perfect in conference play. It could be win or go home for UNH as they vie for the final playoff spot in their pod.
Photo courtesy of UNH Athletics.