WENATCHEE — The Panthers exorcised all of their past demons with the Eastmont Wildcats Tuesday, bouncing their cross-bridge rival 4-2 in a fairly one-sided match at the Apple Bowl.
Wenatchee clearly was the superior team Tuesday night.
The Panthers pressured Eastmont from the opening whistle and never let the Wildcats get comfortable or build much of an attack, which head coach David Vasquez said was the goal.
“We really emphasized that during the pregame,” he said. “We have spurts of intense focus and high levels of intensity followed by moments where we lose it. So one of the keys of tonight’s game was to remind the girls that for us to get a victory over tough opponents, we have to stay focused for the entire 80 minutes. I challenged them to be perfect tonight, not in terms of mistakes but staying focused when mistakes happen and still believing.”
That message was tested early.
Though the first few minutes were fairly back-and-forth, Wenatchee started to control possession and fire off a few quality shots on goal. It looked as though the Panthers were just minutes away from scoring until Eastmont’s Kendall Flanagan sucked all the air out of the stadium with a goal in the 13th minute.
But unlike their previous game against Eastmont last month, Wenatchee responded. And quickly.
The goal allowed the Panthers to reset essentially. Wenatchee got right back on its attack and continued to generate chances. Six minutes after Eastmont scored, the Panthers leveled the score at 1-1 following a goal from senior Taylor Schoengarth. Gisel Sanchez-Blanco then put the Panthers on top 2-1 in the 27th minute after she rolled in a goal through traffic.
“That second goal was huge,” Vasquez said. “That was a momentum shift for us and it was on a play that we had worked on a little bit in practice. You just love it when it’s executed exactly the way you draw it up.”
The score remained 2-1 at half.
Eastmont needed to come out of the half with some energy and did toward the beginning. The Wildcats were able to get on a couple counters early in the half but both were cleared away. Flanagan also had a good look from just outside the 18-yard box that clanked off the crossbar.
The Panthers went up two goals after senior Halle Stegeman jammed in a rebound following her PK attempt that was initially stopped by Eastmont keeper Ali Tiechner. Wenatchee iced the game in the 70th minute on a magnificent goal when Stegeman blasted a free-kick from midfield that flew nearly 40 yards in the air and was headed in by Piper Davidson.
Stegeman, though she only scored one goal, was everywhere Tuesday night, setting up the three other goals and assisting on two.
“Early in the season, we were going to her for scoring and she’s been that person for a while now,” Vasquez said. “But with her soccer IQ, she makes everyone around her better. Even though she’s not necessarily getting the tallies she wants, she is showcasing another set of skills at defensive mid and that is important for college coaches to see.”
Eastmont pushed for a goal over the final 10 minutes and Flanagan got one in the 78th, but the Wildcats couldn’t muster another. The Panthers back four did an excellent job of bottling up the Wildcats attack throughout the game.
“That speaks to the level of intensity and focus they showed,” Vasquez said of his backline. “They were very well organized.”
With the loss, Eastmont falls to 11-2 on the season while Wenatchee improves to 8-4. Both teams have the rest of the week to rest before returning to the pitch on Saturday. The Panthers travel to Yakima to take on Davis and Eastmont hosts Eisenhower. Kickoff for both games is 1 p.m.