by BRYAN EVERSON
If not for a herculean effort by Warren Mott’s goalkeeper, Utica may have been able to rack up the goals like a pinball score last Wednesday.
Mott’s Julia Luzod recorded double-digit saves, but the Chieftains managed to get eventually break through and record a 4-1 home win thanks to a pair of goals each from Liz Balaj and Mady Motloch.
Utica (3-1-2) got on the board first thanks to a shot driven by Balaj from the left side into the upper-half of the net to take the initial lead less than four minutes in.
Less than two minutes later, Mott nearly struck back on a counterattack, but goalkeeper Kaley Brenizer reacted promptly and emerged from between the posts to scoop the ball up near the edge of the box.
Several substitutions sent on soon after by Utica coach Dave Moran quickly presented problems for the Lady Marauders, including junior Skylar Gilbert, who proved to be a darty threat on the left side, and particularly freshman Ari Jalics. The latter had a nice turn-and-run sequence 25 minutes in that began from over 20 yards out that forced a short-range double save by Luzod.
“Ari had a couple shots in the first half where she pelted one off her, and she came right back with another shot and she made the save,” Moran said. “Ari can really pound the ball, and for a keeper to be able to stay in there and take two shots like that, it’s pretty good.”
“Ari didn’t score any goals, but she’s just that contributor,” he added. “Where you don’t think you can fit the ball through, she just seems to get it there. There’s a couple times where she got fouled because she’s getting herself in situations where she’s trying to create something and players just come hard, and that’s something she’s going to learn as she plays at this level.”
With six minutes remaining in the first half, a turnover in the midfield led to a ball over the top of Utica’s defense, and Brenizer was forced to gamble and chop down Mott attacker Paige Corrias, resulting in a yellow card and a penalty kick. Senior Lauren Ross converted the spot kick past Balaj, who came in for fill-in duty until Brenizer re-entered immediately following the foul.
“In my mind, it’s a foul that as a keeper you make, because you try and get the opportunity to try and save the PK,” Moran said. [Liz was] the first one up and ready to take the challenge, so I applaud her for her effort.”
It took some time after the half to ramp up the attack, but Utica began to finally separate. With a dozen minutes off the clock into the second half, Motloch captured a rebound from her own shot from inside 10 yards, and fired again but ricocheted a try off the crossbar. A minute later, Motloch served a through ball that appeared to be touched by Jalics, but the ball remained untouched by the freshman, who simply rounded the keeper as the ball rolled in to give Utica the lead once again.
The Chieftains had another pair of shots from Alayna Valliere and Emily Larkowski rattle the bar and a saved Balaj shot due to the strong hand of Luzod, but Motloch notched the team’s third goal with 22:24 left after dancing around several of Mott’s defenders and beat Luzod one-on-one with her right foot from inside 10 yards.
Despite being dangerous on the counter in the final 15 minutes, Mott still conceded the better share of chances, and Utica capped off the scoring with 28 seconds left in the game when Balaj drove in a shot from eight yards out.
Moran wasn’t happy with the quality of Utica’s play in the first half, but adjustments allowed his team to eventually turn the tide.
“Starting out scoring right away was great, but then we kind of got disheveled and we needed to find ourselves again,” he said. ” In the first half, we were trying to cram everything right through the center of the field, and that’s not what we worked on in practice yesterday. Our plan was to swing the ball through the middle and then find the outside back making a run through, and it just wasn’t materializing.”
“The second half, I thought we did a better job. I felt we held possession a majority of the time, and it was just a matter of getting that second goal, which helped start opening things up. Once we got it, I think we had the game in hand.”
Swinehart Field will host rivalry action when teams return from spring break as Utica will face Eisenhower on April 12.
“We just need to maintain our shape and possession, and we also need to work on our physical toughness, because Ike will run you over and expose you if you show any weakness,” Moran said.