4-0 loss came on rescheduled senior night
Blair field hockey (2-10) was originally going to play their senior night game on the 17th, but due to unplayable turf conditions, the game was rescheduled for the Monday afternoon. The excitement of a typical senior night was tough to find against a good Paint Branch (7-7) team that attacked consistently throughout the first half, putting three goals past the Blair defense.
The Blazers had a sluggish start, forced back into their half for much of the first half. The Panthers hit long crosses deep into the crease, forcing Blair to make a play on the ball before the Paint Branch attackers could jump on it. Blair had to make a lot of defensive stops to prevent the goals from pouring in. Goalie Charlotte Cook started in place of starter Talia Stern and made stop after stop as the shots came flying in from Paint Branch. Despite the great goalie play, Paint Branch snuck their first goal past the Blazers on a second chance opportunity after a kick save by Cook. With 23 minutes left in the first half sophomore midfielder Addie McDonough made a decisive stop as she stood on the goal line and prevented the second goal from scoring.
The first half offense was bleak for the Blazers offense. The ball was normally worked up the right side of the field for Amy Nguyen, who tried to spark the offense. With 20 minutes to go the Panthers scored another goal. Halfway through the first half Blair worked a run down the left side, with senior midfielder Marianne Benyamin pushing a drive ahead to Nguyen, but Paint Branch swarmed around the forward, preventing the goal. In the next three minutes Blair was pushed back on defense by one Paint Branch midfielder who chipped two balls deep into the crease. The first one Blair was able to push out of bounds, allowing a Paint Branch corner, but with 12:15 remaining, the same midfielder chipped another shot to the forward and they were able to connect for the third goal of the game. Blair called a timeout after this goal to regroup. "We started off not so strong offensively, we called that timeout about halfway through the first half down 3-0 and we talked about what we've worked on in practice like how to generate offensive plays and the off-ball movements," head coach Megan Lusby said.
Blair had a few opportunities during the rest of the half, but they came up empty. Senior Nika Seider and McDonough coupled to attack the left side, but a shot that sailed wide left and a steal by the Panthers left the Blazers scoreless in the first half. "We tried to cut open to get the ball to where it needs to be," said Nguyen. "I try to anticipate where the ball is going to be and I always look up and see who's around me before I take it downfield."
The second half saw the Blazers come up short after making good drives toward the Paint Branch goal. Offensively, Blair came out firing in the second half, but they couldn't put a final goal past the Panthers. After two Paint Branch saves, McDonough and senior Kellyn Barber paired to attack the left center of the goal, passing back and forth but leaving the ball out for a save by the Paint Branch goalie.
Blair's defense, led by Benyamin and senior Kendall Price, stood pat while the offense went to work, but between the two of them and goalie Cook, Paint Branch was held scoreless for 15 minutes. The second half dragged on slowly, as no one got on the board. The whistle blew over and over, and seemingly every few seconds there was a foul. With five minutes remaining, Paint Branch mounted another attack. Cook saved the initial effort, and junior Lien-Dai Cao cleared the ball, but the clearance was quickly corralled by the Panthers and pushed in for a goal.
Blair had only a few more opportunities led by Benyamin. She led a pass ahead to Barber and a minute later followed with a shot wide left. The game ended 4-0 as Blair will look ahead to their matchup with Walter Johnson (8-4) in the first round of the playoffs on Thursday at WJ at six. When asked how they were going to prepare, Nguyen said, "100 percent focus for the next two days because after Thursday it could go either way."
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