BALTIMORE, MD. — Chris Pinkham has a feel for the big moments. Last spring, the senior netted the game-winner in the America East Championship. Saturday night, Pinkham fired home the game-winner to clinch a spot in the America East Tournament. The 1-0 win snapped a two-game streak of draws for the No. 5 University of New Hampshire (UNH) Wildcats (13-0-2, 5-0-1).
The long trip down to the University of Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC) Retrievers (7-7-2, 2-4-1) didn’t sap the ‘Cats energy and UNH came out firing. The visitors fired six shots on the Retrievers net in the first half. The bombardment wasn’t enough to light up the scoreboard, but it showed improvement from an attack that’s form has dipped in recent weeks. On the defensive end, UNH was a fortress. UMBC managed only one shot which junior keeper Jassem Koleilat saved.
UNH kept their foot on the gas in the second half, and the offense finally found the breakthrough. Head coach Marc Hubbard has long preached a fluid, back-to-front offense. That’s precisely what Hubbard got in the 51st minute. The ‘Cats moved the ball with silky precision to midfield, where fifth-year senior Sam Henneberg launched an arching ball to grad student Paul Mayer. The Frenchman is usually the tip of the spear for UNH, but instead of forcing a shot, Mayer flicked the ball backward. Pinkham was waiting for the pass and lashed a low, driven effort into the bottom right corner. It was a sublime finish with blistering pace on the ball and lethal accuracy.
“The goal was a great team move from back to front,” said Pinkham. “I tried following the play as best I could and try to get onto the end of something. The ball came my way and [I] didn’t have to think twice about it. Obviously, a great feeling to impact the game and help the team win.”
The ‘Cats defense shut down the Retrievers’ hope for a comeback with smothering defense the rest of the game. UMBC, who averages close to two goals per game, finished with just three shots on net compared to New Hampshire’s 10. The Wildcats have now outscored their opponents a combined 33-7 on the season.
Pinkham was full of praise for the team’s defensive acumen.
“Awesome defensive group performance from the team. UMBC has had a great season offensively so far, so to shut them out was huge for us. Getting that result will help propel us when the playoffs come around,” said Pinkham.
The defense ensured Pinkham’s lone goal was enough for the win, but UNH left plenty on their pitch when it came to offense. The Wildcats had 15 shots and seven corners. The result marked the third game in a row for UNH with only one goal. The offense has shown it is capable of more. It was on fire for a five-game stretch where they averaged 3.8 goals per game earlier this season. Pinkham said the team isn’t worried about their recent dip in attacking form.
“I think the offense has done fine. We just haven’t finished as many chances as we would like. The opportunities are there… we have the chances, we just have to keep going when the ball isn’t bouncing our way and believe one will come, especially in these tight games,” said Pinkham. “It helps prepare us for playoffs. Those games will be tight.”
UNH will need to win any way they can when the postseason begins in November. But, before they can turn their attention to the playoffs, the Wildcats need to get through Stony Brook (7-5-0, 3-3-0) and UMass Lowell (4-9-1, 3-3-0). The Seawolves are up first when they come to Durham for the ‘Cats final home game of the regular season on Oct. 28 at 7 p.m.
Photo courtesy of China Wong