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Late heartbreak for South Medford

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Willamette scores with less than four minutes left to edge Panther girls

Shorthanded and all, the South Medford girls soccer team did so much right in the second half of Saturday’s game against Willamette.

But with a second-half goal still yet to be had, the door was open for a late-game winner.

And the Wolverines took it.

Willamette midfielder Maddalena Beneditti scored with less than four minutes to go to give the Wolverines a 2-1 win over South Medford, handing the Panthers their second consecutive Southwest Conference loss.

“It’s a big bummer,” said South Medford midfielder Lexi Maukonen “It’s frustrating, but we’ll get back to it next game. … I’m glad we held our heads high after (Tuesday’s loss to North Medford) and put it in the past. We didn’t dwell on it too much.”

Beneditti, who also scored Willamette’s opener, was able to jump on a ball just outside the South penalty area after the Panthers were unable to clear it.

With a couple of quick touches, Beneditti sent a shot to the far post that just got past Panthers goalkeeper Eve Lynx and put the Wolverines (5-2, 3-2 SWC) back ahead.

“We were kind of stabbing at the ball and they got good space and took advantage of it,” said South Medford head coach Alicia Stormberg, whose team had six players out injured and only two subs available. “With really good soccer teams, if you give them those one or two opportunities they’re going to take it and succeed with it.”

The Wolverines’ goal with 3 1/2 minutes to go proved to be a tough pill to swallow for a Panthers team that was much improved in the second half after a formation change by Stormberg at halftime.

Out went the 4-3-3 that South started the game with and in came a 4-4-2, which gave the Panthers (4-2-1, 1-2-1) more width and another player out wide that was able to contribute to the attack.

It was also somewhat of a necessary move after Brooke Fairbanks, who was responsible for South’s first-half goal that tied the game, had to leave at halftime due to previous family obligations, according to Stormberg.

“We wanted to put two people up there and we needed to get more attacking in anyway,” said Stormberg. “It allowed us to get numbers up and combine a lot instead of having just that one forward up there.”

“Brooke’s a huge part of our offense, so missing her was big,” continued Stormberg. “The two forwards we put in, they did a great job but it’s a position that they hadn’t been playing, so what they did during that moment is awesome for us. We’re just going to have to go back to practice and work with them and hopefully get it from there.”

The Panthers had numerous close calls — be it through balls that just missed their intended target in the final third or one heavy touch around the 18-yard box — but couldn’t convert.

Willamette keeper Azjah Tocher made her two saves on the day in the second half.

“I think we were missing getting numbers up on offense and that was preventing us from getting shots,” said Maukonen. “I think we played well and I think we adapted well, we just couldn’t get a goal.”

After outscoring their opponents 11-3 in three nonleague games, the Panthers have scored just three goals in their four SWC contests this season.

“In preseason we were scoring left and right,” said Stormberg. “We’ve had some injuries and some of our scorers are out now, so coming into league we went from scoring a lot to really struggling to score. Our main focus is just going to be on the final third and getting the ball in the net.”

Willamette opened through Beneditti, who was released on a run down the right wing thanks to a well-placed pass from Hailey Clay in midfield. Beneditti did the rest, powering into the South penalty area and firing a shot with plenty of pace behind it past Lynx and into the roof of the net at the near post.

Just 10 minutes earlier, the Wolverines looked like they were going to take the lead, but Lynx was able to make a fine double save, first diving full stretch to her left and then stopping the follow-up attempt from point-blank range.

South was able to tie the game with five minutes to go before the half.

Fairbanks, a first-team all-SWC forward, jumped on a pass from Maukonen and raced into the right side of the Willamette box. Instead of going high like Beneditti, Fairbanks sent a low shot past Tocher that found side netting at the far post.

It was the Panthers’ first shot on goal in the game and just their third overall shot.

Willamette outshot South 12-7 in the game.

“We really calmed ourselves down and played the ball on the ground,” said Maukonen of a second-half shift in play. “Doing more combinations is something that we were focusing on (in the second half).”

Reach reporter Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or dpenza@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.

South Medford's Brooke Fairbanks tries to get the ball over Willamette goalkeeper Azjah Tocher during the first half at South Medford High School Saturday. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
South Medford's Tyler Hampson passes the ball off her head in front of Willamette's Maddalena Beneditti during the first half at South Medford High School Saturday. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
South Medford's Avery Zahniser collides with Willamette's Azjah Tocher during the second half at South Medford High School Saturday. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
South Medford's Brooke Fairbanks drives the ball toward the goal during the first half at South Medford High School Saturday. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
South Medford's Brooke Fairbanks celebrates with teammates after scoring during the first half at South Medford High School Saturday. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]