DALLAS — The Misericordia women’s soccer team has built a legacy of success with championship seasons coming frequently over the past decade.
But the joy of winning a title never gets old. Each year and each team is different with a new group of girls ready to add to the legacy and leave their own mark on the program.
Alexis Benedetto was a reserve freshman goalkeeper during Misericordia’s 2017 MAC Freedom championship run. This year was her turn in the spotlight.
With that came being right in the line of fire.
In Saturday’s MAC Freedom championship game, Misercorida saw its two-goal lead over Wilkes cut in half when the Colonels converted a penalty kick with just over 10 minutes remaining.
In a frantic push until the final whistle, Wilkes threw everything it had at the goal in desperate search of an equalizing goal.
Benedetto made sure it never came.
She made three big saves in the final 10 minutes to secure Misericordia’s 2-1 win and the Cougars’ third straight conference championship.
“Super, super exciting. It’s a great feeling,” Benedetto said of being in goal for this year’s championship. “We’re all part of the team, we all help out in our own ways, but its good to be out there on the field tonight.”
Junior midfielder Jeanna Orfanos, who scored what became the game-winning goal Saturday, has been a big part of each of the last three Cougar championships. But her smile was as wide as ever as she put on her latest conference championship T-shirt.
“Every one is amazing in its own way,” Orfanos said. “Every year we have a different team, different players. We all come together. It’s special every year.”
Misericordia controlled play in the first half. Coach Mark Stauffer called the first 30 minutes his team’s best 30 minutes of the match. Still, Wilkes and goalkeeper Samanta Cecere kept the game scoreless.
The Cougars finally broke through off a corner kick when the ball came back out to freshman Kaylee Sturans 25 yards out.
She took a step back and set a left-footed blast into the top corner of the net.
Despite holding a 1-0 halftime lead, the feeling in the Cougars locker room was that it wasn’t going to be enough.
“We figured even at halftime that we were going to need a second one to be where we needed to be,” Stauffer said. “We talked about getting a second one the first 20 minutes of the second half just so we can shape ourselves defensively and play not under too much pressure.”
Orfanos provided it seven minutes in with a goal so spectacular it elicited teammates bowing down to her as he came back to midfield.
Evelyn Logie lobbed a pass from the corner to where Orfanos came in and headed it into the goal.
“Coming off a 1-0 lead at the half, we needed to establish ourselves for the second half,” Orfanos said. “That was huge to set the tone for the half and keep us going.
The score held until Jessica Egan scored the PK for Wilkes with 10:24 left.
Then came the final push.
“I think in those final minutes its super important to stay mentally in it,” Benedetto said. “They got the PK on us, you never know what’s going to happen. But we stayed focused and did what we had to do.”
“You give up that late goal and off a sudden it becomes interesting,” Stauffer said. “They get a little more energy. You knew you’d have some extra pressure coming at you for the last 10 minutes of the match.”
“I thought the last 35 minutes we really applied a lot of pressure and did some nice things for our team and generated some opportunities,” Wilkes coach John McNichol said. “Unfortunately, we came up a little short in the end.”
It was the second straight year Misericordia beat Wilkes in the finals. Last year, Misericordia won 1-0 in double overtime.
“Inch here, an inch there. We had a couple balls cleared off the line. Some opportunities were near misses for us,” McNichol said. “They finished two of their opportunities. Our goalkeeper also made a couple great saves in the first half, as well. It’s a tough game. Any time these two teams get together, there’s a lot of great soccer in this area. I think it’s a testament to how good the two teams are we’ve had two very close, right games the last two years in the final.”
Misericordia (15-2-1) awaits Monday’s NCAA tournament selection show to see who it plays next. Wilkes closes its year at 9-7-2.
Source: The Associated Press