BETHLEHEM, Pa. - The Lehigh women’s soccer team fell behind a player, and a goal, late in the first half, but the Mountain Hawks (3-5-1, 0-1-0 Patriot League) fought back to tie the score before dropping a 2-1 heartbreaker to crosstown rival Lafayette in Saturday evening’s league opener at a cool and rainy Ulrich Sports Complex. Lehigh responded from a 1-0 deficit when senior Genna Pepe scored with just six seconds left in the first half, but it wasn’t enough.
“We played well at the beginning, but we didn’t put one in the back of the net,” said Lehigh head coach Eric Lambinus. “We made one mistake, and paid for it.”
Lehigh came out strong, controlling play in the early going and earning a number of dazzling chances. One came in the 12th minute off the foot of sophomore Murphee Greeley, but Lafayette goalkeeper Lauren Smedley made an incredible stop to force a corner kick. Minutes earlier, freshman Elizabeth Bergman was set up beautifully by a Pepe feed, but her shot just missed the right post.
The teams settled in until the 41st minute when Lafayette earned a penalty kick after a red card was assessed to senior Leah Kulp. Alex Reisinger converted, beating Lehigh goalkeeper Ashley Blanks high to make it 1-0 at 40:42.
Playing down a player, the Mountain Hawks quickly evened the score just 4:12 later. Frantically trying to get off the corner kick before time expired, Pepe finished her second goal of the season with just six seconds left in the half. Bergman made a nice touch to the senior co-captain who found the top right corner to make it 1-1 heading into halftime.
“I wish we showed some more fight consistently throughout games since we seem to react well to adversity at times,” said Lambinus. “We just haven’t played with that sense of urgency for an entire game.”
Lehigh continued to play Lafayette close in the second half, despite playing with only 10. The Leopards held an 8-6 second-half shot advantage, with one finding the back of the net in the 62nd minute. It was Gina Milone who took a pass from Janelle Pierson on the left side and fired a perfectly-placed shot into the top right corner of the goal to make it 2-1 Lafayette at 61:40.
Both teams earned quality chances down the stretch as Smedley kept the Leopards up one while Blanks came up big to keep Lehigh within a single tally. In the end, the Mountain Hawks couldn’t put one in, dropping the 2-1 final.
Lehigh held the final shot advantage 14-10, including 8-2 in the first half. Lafayette took six corner kicks to the Mountain Hawks’ five. Blanks finished with seven saves, six coming in the second half, while Smedley made five.
The Mountain Hawks continue their six-game homestand on Monday when they welcome Ivy League power Columbia to the Ulrich Sports Complex. Lehigh returns to Patriot League play next Friday when it welcomes American for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
“We have to go back to what’s made us successful in the past with hard work and getting after it,” said Lambinus. “It’s not always easy. A lot of people have taken on new roles, so we need to continue to learn and get better.”