Sometimes, the Gods of Lucky Bounces really do even things out. After drilling no less than three shots off either the crossbar or goal post earlier in the game, the Panhellenic Storm were not about to apoligize for a late fortuitious goal in posting a key 2-1 win over Whitby Saturday afternoon at home.
With less than five minutes remaining in the game, Sudbury speedster Jenna Hellstrom worked her way down low, making a run to the left flank after a well played ball courtesy of Jassell James. But Hellstrom appeared to have little to no angle remaining as she neared the Whitby net.
A heads up play sees the underage talent bounce a shot off goaltender Francillia Robinson into the net, as the Storm edge Whitby 2-1, improving their record to 5-4-5, good for 20 points and fifth place in the nine team CGSL Under-16 loop.
It was just six minutes in when Panhellenic would first witness a sign of things to come. Taking a direct kick from just outside the 18 yard box, Mariah Clark drills a shot directly off the crossbar, keeping the game scoreless.
While Sudbury keeper Alex Ross was not tested as often as Robinson, especially in the opening half, she alertly played away a through ball in the 12th minute as Whitby midfielder Nicola Costello spotted a seam and took advantage to create a decent scoring chance.
Almost midway through the first half when Storm striker Tianna Faubert begins to assert her presence, making a nice run off the right side and driving hard to the net, only to be denied by Robinson on the cross. Panhellenic makes it a pair of near misses in the 25th minute, again on a direct kick, as Maddy Pos nails the ball from more than 30 yards out, glancing her shot off the crossbar to the left of Robinson.
Three first half Sudbury corner kicks are turned aside with confidence by the Whitby keeper, who aggressively pursued the ball, well off her goal line. Despite controlling large segments of play in the opening half, Panhellenic must be content to sit tied in a scoreless draw, with forty-five minutes remaining.
Whitby begins the second half with more energy, creating some momentum early, though Sudbury defenders limit any great scoring opportunities. The Storm fail to capitalize on their best chance, another direct kick from twenty yards out, as Hellstrom keeps it low, where the ball is corralled nicely by Robinson.
In the 60th minute, Jassell James directs a glancing blow off the outside of the post, while Robinson needs no assistance in stopping Hellstrom about three minutes later. The pressure applied by the home side is finally rewarded in the 68th minute, when Hellstrom is fouled in the box.
Defender Clark is called upon to handle the penalty kick and she makes no mistake, finding the left-hand corner with ease. Unfortunately, the 1-0 lead causes Sudbury to sit back more than they had for virtually the entire contest, with Whitby pressing for the equalizer.
"The first two minutes after we scored, we were all pumped up, really excited," said Clark. "But then I think we begin to feel like we have the game in the bag. It's something we need to work on, keeping up the pressure."
The visitors appeared to guarantee themselves a point on the road, when Jodie Ann Mitchell connects on a direct kick from about 35 yards out, hitting the crossbar but getting the bounce down past goaltender Ross with only six minutes remaining.
With only one sub at his disposal, coach Kevin Roach moves Hellstrom back to striker, a strategy that pays dividends in the 87th minute with the game-winning goal. With Whitby trailing Panhellenic in league standings, the contest was a virtual must-win for the locals, looking to avoid relegation.
The Sudbury win came despite the absence of defensive stalwart Gabby Conrad, a player whom Roach considers the best sweeper in the league. Considering the short bench that Panhellenic endured, coming up with a game plan that minimized the likelihood of exhaustion was certainly a key factor in picking up the win.
"We really wanted to make the ball work, not to make us run," said Tianna Faubert. "We wanted to tire the other team out before we got tired out." While there is little doubt that much of the Panhellenic offense is created around the skill set of Jenna Hellstrom, recently returned after a stint with the U-15 national team, the Storm thrives when the attack is coming in waves, with Faubert among a number of key contributors for Kevin Roach.
"I've gotten faster over the past few years, and instead of going to the corner flag, I've learned to drive to the net a little bit more" added Faubert. In addition to the scoring chances created by the likes of James, Faubert, Hellstrom and Pos, the local ladies also used the strong right leg of Mariah Clark to their advantage on several occasions, no big surprise, according to the Lockerby Composite defender.
"It really doesn't matter the distance for me, since we practice them (direct kicks) every practice," said Clark. "If I'm close, I usually try to shoot or drop it right in front of the goalie, so that our girls can run on to it. If it's farther out, then I just chip it over the whole line of girls (the wall)."
Acknowledging that this victory likely falls under the category of "ugly wins", coach Kevin Roach noted that patience is sometimes required, waiting for the bounce they would need. "Basically, at the end of the first half, I just told the girls that they were outplaying the other team," said Roach.
"We took eight shots in the first half and couldn't score, so in the second half, we needed sixteen." The Storm made it a perfect weekend on Sunday, receiving goals from Tianna Faubert and Mariah Clark in edging Oshawa Turul 2-1 in CGSL Cup play.
With the win, Sudbury moves into the semi-final round on September 18th at Lake Simcoe, battling Unionville-Milliken, while Richmond Hill and Etobicoke meet in the remaining game. The two winners will play for the CGSL League Cup (U-16 Division) on Sunday, September 19th.