The Lady Panthers of Litchfield took the field for the first time this season Thursday, April 29, as they picked up a 1-0 win over the Staunton Bulldogs in Staunton.
With the 2020 season being lost due to Covid-19, the last time the Panthers had played soccer they were winning their sixth regional title in seven attempts, before bowing out to eventual sectional champion Decatur St. Teresa by a 5-2 final score in the semifinals. Coming into Thursday’s action, Litchfield was set with eight players returning from the 2019 squad, with six being seniors.
It did not take long for Litchfield to go on the attack, as senior forward Izzy Ray led the charge by taking the ball down the right side of the field in the first minute of play using her impressive speed. Ray took the ball into the corner, before working around the defender and putting a shot on goal that would be saved by the Staunton goalkeeper.
The Bulldogs came ready also, as they came to this game off the heels of a thrilling 4-3 loss to Hillsboro earlier in the week. Coming into play 2-1 in conference play and overall, the Bulldogs were up for the challenge heading into this game.
Junior midfielder Lily Bruhn picked up right where she left off against Hillsboro (two goals in that contest for Bruhn) as she attacked the Panther defense. Bruhn worked the ball into the Litchfield box before delivering a pass to junior striker Brooke Kinder, who took a shot that careened off the crossbar, spoiling the attack.
Bruhn was not done there, as just minutes later she was able to get a pair of shots on goal to challenge Litchfield’s senior keeper Becky Painter. Painter was up for the challenge and successfully swatted away both shots.
The Panthers settled in after this and began playing a very physical brand of soccer that opened up opportunity after opportunity to score.
Led by senior midfielder Karly Kruse, the Panthers bombarded the Bulldogs with strong, aggressive tackles in the midfield. Although this led to a legion of whistles being blown against Litchfield, (to the tune of 15 fouls, eight of which were called on Kruse) it set the tone for the match, as Staunton had a hard time responding to the physicality of the Panthers
Litchfield senior Maddie Diamond proved to be a handful for the Staunton defense, constantly attacking the goal and putting pressure on the goalkeeper. Diamond had a trio of shots in the first half that all were unable to find the back of the net, but her presence as an attacker was felt.
Sophomore Olivia Mitchell also attempted a shot after working down the sideline in her varsity debut but was unable to find the back of the net.
In the second half, the Panthers continued the physical play.
After Kruse won a ball near midfield, Litchfield strung together a series of passes that resulted in a shot by sophomore Myka Fenton that was saved by the goalkeeper.
Just moments later, fellow sophomore Olivia Fleming won a ball near midfield before turning and making a beautiful lead pass to Diamond. Diamond was able to outrun the Bulldog defense and place a shot into the lower corner past the keeper, giving the Panthers a 1-0 lead.
Staunton would make a late push as Bruhn would have her shot saved by Painter, followed by Bruhn crossing to Kinder for a shot that went just wide of the net.
Freshman Breanna Feeley would take a free kick shot from very far out that forced a nice save by Painter, and with that save the Panthers were able to hold on to a 1-0 win in their season opener, making them 1-0 on the season and in conference.
They’ll have a chance to build on that conference mark on Thursday, May 6, when they take on the Carlinville Cavaliers in Carlinville.
April 29 at Staunton
Litchfield 0 1 - 1
Staunton 0 0 - 0
Goals: Litchfield - Maddie Diamond 1. Goalkeepers: Litchfield - Becky Painter (1 shutout); Staunton - Dana Jarden.
Record: Litchfield (1-0, 1-0).
For the first time this season the Litchfield girls soccer team took the field in Litchfield to take on the Athens Warriors Friday, April 30. The Panthers came into the match-up 1-0 after an impressive victory over their conference rival, the Staunton Bulldogs, the previous day.
Litchfield looked strong in their season opener, as they dominated in the middle of the field which led to a surplus of attacking opportunities. This strong showing had spirits and hopes high headed into Friday evening for their home opener, but a late goal sent Athens home as a 2-1 winner.
The game started well for Litchfield as they brought the offense to Athens early. Sophomore Olivia Fleming got things going three minutes in after receiving a pass to the corner. From there she got off a nice cross that would have landed right in front of the Warriors’ goal had it not been for the Athens keeper stepping up and making a nice save.
Just two minutes later, senior forward Maddie Diamond knocked a ball loose from the Athens back line and was off to the races. Diamond was able to beat the defenders and get a clean look at the Athens goal but fired the ball over the crossbar and out of play.
This was the story of the first half for the Panthers as they were able to create multiple good looks but were unable to capitalize on any of them.
As the second half got going, the purple and white looked a step slower than the previous half. Whether it being the fact that they were playing their second game in two days, or the short bench that they ran, (no substitutions in the first half for Litchfield) they lacked the midfield dominance they had shown against the Bulldogs.
With 10 minutes left in the contest, Athens was able to strike first. An Athens attacker had brought the ball up the right side of the field, and worked her way inside the box before getting a shot off.
The ball deflected off a sea of purple defenders but bounced perfectly to Athens’ Emma Payne, who was in a poacher’s position in front of the goal. Payne calmly received the ball, turned and fired a strike into the corner past Litchfield keeper Becky Painter to take the 1-0 lead.
This seemed to light the candle for the Panthers, as just minutes later senior midfielder Karly Kruse took matters into her own hands. After passing the ball into the Athens half of play, Kruse received a pass just inside the Athens box. Kruse stepped up and delivered a great strike but a diving save by the keeper kept Litchfield scoreless.
With five minutes left, the Panthers’ luck would change, as Kruse got set to take a corner kick. Kruse, who has one of the stronger legs on the Litchfield team, sent a high lofting ball towards the keeper. The Athens goalkeeper misjudged the ball, and it deflected off the keeper and into the net to knot things up at 1-1.
The lead would not last, however, as with just two minutes left in the contest, the Warriors attacked down the right sideline. As the Athens forward cut inward to get in the box, a hard tackle by a Panther defender resulted in a penalty kick for Athens. Delayne Chambers stepped up and delivered a goal for Athens to take a 2-1 lead.
The Panthers would get one final shot as Kruse would take a free kick with less than a minute left that required a nice save by the Athens goalkeeper to secure the win.
The loss put Litchfield at 1-1 on the season going into Saturday’s tilt against Lincoln. They would once again rise above the .500 mark after beating the Railers 2-1 on their home field. Some familiar faces would find the net for the Panthers as Maddie Diamond and Karly Kruse each scored their second goal of the season for Litchfield.
The Panthers hope to continue their success on the field on Thursday, May 6, when they play Carlinville at the Cavies’ home field.
April 30 at Litchfield
Athens 0 2 - 2
Litchfield 0 1 - 1
Scoring: Litchfield - Karly Kruse 1; Athens - Emma Payne 1; Delayne Chambers 1. Goalkeeper: Litchfield - Becky Painter; Athens - Kyla Davis.
May 1 at Lincoln
Litchfield 1 1 - 2
Lincoln 0 1 - 1
Record: Litchfield (2-1, 1-0).