Freshman Elizabeth Hitti saved the day for the Penn field hockey team.
Hitti’s goal with just over five minutes remaining gave Penn a 4-3 win over La Salle and the oh-so-desperate boost it needed heading into its Ivy home opener against Harvard on Saturday.
The Quakers (4-3, 0-1 Ivy) grabbed their first lead at 3-2 early in the second half but yielded the equalizer to the Explorers (2-6) less than five minutes later.
After no team could find the back of the cage for over 17 minutes, Hitti finally found a loose ball near the baseline on the right side of the goal and willed her way to scoring the ultimate winner.
“I just grabbed it and cut into the middle, and the goalie came out and I reversed it through her legs,” Hitti said. “It was kind of a little bit of a trickler, but somehow it managed to get in there.”
Coach Colleen Fink said Hitti’s game-winner was “outstanding.”
“She attacked the base side and she just swept in and she was relentless,” Fink said. “It was really exciting to see a freshman step up in that role at that point in the game.”
Just over 55 minutes earlier, the Quakers, trailing 1-0, ended their two-plus game scoring drought when junior Amelia Cohen beat La Salle’s goalie to the far side of the post. It was the first goal Penn had scored since the second half of its 3-2 loss to Appalachian State 10 days earlier.
“I think the offense sort of felt like there was a little bit of a monkey on their back,” Fink said of her team, which had scored 16 times in the first four games before being shutout twice. “So I think that kind of got it off.”
Hitti explained how the team changed its offensive approach going in.
“In previous games we had tried to kind of dribble it into the net,” she said. “Going into this game the main focus was just to get shots off — no matter pretty or not — try to put them in the back of the net.”
Both Hitti and Cohen scored twice in the match. It was the first time the freshman notched multiple goals in a game, while Cohen did it for the second time this season. She already has six goals in seven contests.
But the chinks in Penn’s armor still exist in its defense. The Quakers have now allowed 22 goals in only seven games and were outshot by the Explorers on Wednesday night, 14-10.
“It’s still a work in progress, still something we’re working on day in and day out,” Fink said. “The same issues are still persisting.”
Luckily for the Red and Blue, sophomore goaltender Carly Sokach stood on her head at times in net, making 11 saves total.
“I think she finally found that confidence, she was a lot more vocal in the cage today,” Fink said. “It was definitely more reminiscent of her play during the spring when we knew the talent we had between the posts.”
Even through the defensive struggles, Fink was proud of her team’s overall performance.
“The girls showed a lot of character and pride in what we’re trying to do here this season by pulling off the win today,” she said. “I’m happy to see that and I still think we can fix the issues that we’re having.”