By Nelson Coffin
A vastly improved John Carroll indoor soccer squad survived a two-goal punch to the gut from Mercy in the first couple of minutes of an A Conference showdown for the top seed in the upcoming playoffs.
The Patriots then went toe-to-toe with the Magic before falling, 3-1, in a crisp and well-played battle on Tuesday at Clarence “Du” Burns Arena in Canton.
Considering that the Patriots (5-2, 4-2 conference) were flattened, 9-2, in their first encounter with the Magic before Christmas, they have come a long way in five weeks.
“It was the first game of the season and, for a lot of these girls, it was their first indoor game game ever,” John Carroll coach Hayley Howe said. “We were still blending JV (outdoor) players with varsity players. And now we’re reaping the rewards of that blending.”
Despite producing the lowest goal output of the season, Mercy still had the defensive resilience to remain unbeaten this season and in its last 15 matches, dating back to Dec. 6, 2017.
It should also be noted that Mercy has not yielded more than two goals in any game this season and owns a sparkling 1.14 goals-against average, a hair lower than last year’s stellar 1.15 mark.
With a backline featuring sophomore Laine Reddish and junior Claire Geier welcoming help from versatile senior Ava Clare Tempert, junior keeper Alivia McDermott’s eight-save performance kept the Patriots totally under wraps until sophomore midfielder Julianna Smith converted a feed from senior Erin Scannell with just over nine minutes to go in the second half.
At that point, and against that defense, John Carroll still had a huge mountain to climb before drawing even.
It didn’t happen, although shots by Scannell and freshman forward Meghan Palm were headed toward the goal before an alert McDermott nabbed them.
Fortunately for the Magic, early goals by Geier and sophomore Emma Aviles were enough of a cushion to maintain the lead throughout the game.
Geier’s goal came from long range and may have been deflected by sophomore goalie Gwyn Baikauskus before sailing past her for a 1-0 Mercy advantage just two minutes into the match.
Aviles’ came from a scramble in front of the goal on a short pass from Tempert, who leads Mercy with 19 goals and 12 assists this winter.
Freshman midfielder Alexandra Jankowski made it 3-0 on a well-struck blast late in the first half.
John Carroll sophomore defender Ellie Hollin had a pretty good day keeping Tempert from doing even more damage, although the Mercy star said that she was still feeling the effects of flu-like symptoms that appeared after a grueling day of running for the Mercy indoor track team last Friday.
Hollin, her coach said, “played smart” against Tempert.
Mercy coach Nick Gill said that he was not taken aback by the Patriots’ obvious improvement.
“We expected them to get better,” he said. “They have learned how to play in the league. Hayley does such a great job of coaching, so we weren’t surprised. We were able to overcome some injuries and illnesses. But it was a bit of a wakeup call for us.”
Garnering the top seed was a meaningful accomplishment for a team looking to add to its trophy case. Remaining unbeaten engenders a certain tnthusiasm as well, Geier said.
“Being undefeated really gets us excited,” Geier said. “Last year we won the first A Conference championship at Mercy, and it’s really important to us win another one.”