The Bainbridge Spartans broke open a second-half 2-2 tie to beat the Liberty Patriots 4-2 in girls soccer Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
It was the opening game of the season for both teams, and the Spartans won without any offense from Natalie Vukic, Bainbridge's scoring sensation who led the state in goals last year.
"It was good that we had some players step up this game and get some goals. That's huge," said Spartan Coach Scott Druker.
"Natalie is going to draw the coverage," he added. "She's not a secret."
The Patriots put plenty of pressure on Vukic, to no avail.
"She was being double-teamed, so our forwards had to step up," said Riley Gregoire, who put the Spartans on the board with just a few minutes gone by in the first half.
That third-minute goal came via an assist from Vukic and a perfect pass between the Liberty defenders.
Vukic was being double teamed and found Gregoire in the middle with a through ball for Gregoire's first goal of the season.
"It felt really good," Gregoire said.
"I just took a touch and shot it with the left to the lower right-hand corner," Gregoire said.
The junior forward put Bainbridge up 2-0 in the 42nd minute with another assist from Vukic after the start of the second half.
Liberty answered with back-to-back goals in the 64th and 69th minute to tie the contest.
Sami Harrell put Liberty on the board with an unassisted chip shot from outside the box that rainbowed over the outstretched arms of Spartan goalkeeper Alex Bredy.
Bredy stopped another shot on goal just 51 seconds later that would have tied the game.
Less than five minutes later, however, the Patriots' Sydney Abel evened the contest at 2-2 with an unassisted, high-arc shot from the left side of the box that dropped just behind the Spartan goalkeeper.
But with the game knotted at 2-all, midfielder Maddie Ketcheside knocked in the go-ahead goal at the 70th minute to give Bainbridge a 3-0 advantage.
Ketcheside took a pass from Vukic and tucked it into the right corner of the net.
"It's crazy. I can't really believe it happened," Ketcheside said.
The clutch shot swung the momentum back to Bainbridge.
"We kind of needed to pull it together. We were falling apart, so we needed something to get us ahead," Ketcheside said.
Bainbridge caught Liberty goalkeeper Katie McGuire out of the net again as Alison Snare closed out the scoring for the Spartans with a shot from the corner with just seconds remaining that slipped past a sliding Shaniah Adriano. Vukic again tallied the assist.
"You never know what to expect in the first game," Druker said of his Spartans.
Bainbridge — who lost about a half dozen players to graduation — made ample substitutions and it seemed to struggle to find its rhythm at times in the second half.
The Spartans looked like a different team, however, at the start of each half.
"The first five, 10 minutes was probably the best we moved the ball.
A lot of it is just the first game. And we'll get those issues ironed out," Druker said.
Bainbridge had less than 10 shots on goal during the game.
That said, the shots the Spartans did take were quality ones, Druker noted.
"It was good combination play. All four goals were crafted. That's good to see. That's who we are," he said.
"Bainbridge has some dangerous players offensively that I think tested our back line," said Liberty Coach Tami Nguyen.
Nguyen noted her team looks a bit different than the squad that won the KingCo Conference last year and placed fourth at state.
"We lost seven starters from last year, so I'm really pleased with the
result today, with the idea that we're going to practice and get better," Nguyen said. "For a first outing, I'm happy with it."