PALM BEACH GARDENS – After battling to a draw in regulation, the Benjamin girls soccer program fell to Palmer Trinity in penalties in the Palm League Championship on Wednesday night.
The Buccaneers (9-1-1) faced an early deficit when a defensive breakdown allowed the visiting Falcons (7-2-1) to strike first, but they battled back with a much more confident second half.
After a myriad of half-chances, Benjamin finally broke through to tie with less than ten minutes remaining in the game. The Buccaneers worked the ball toward the box, got a shot off, and Madelyn Popilek got just enough off the deflection to tie the game.
Though the game was considered a tie in regulation by FHSAA rules, it went to penalty kicks as the Palm League Championship, where each team traded goals until the Falcons got the better of the Buccaneers in the final kicks from the spot.
Here are three takeaways from the entertaining championship game.
1. Volume replaced quality, and the Bucs offense found a way
Following a relatively stagnant first half, the Buccaneers found their footing after the halftime whistle, working the ball into the attacking half with far more confidence.
Benjamin dominated midfield possession and forced Palmer Trinity into a number of fouls with their quick passes and forward pressure.
“I feel like we really started focusing,” sophomore Lily White said. “That second half, we had a good talk and we realized that we actually do have a chance of getting another goal, and maybe even winning. I think we worked as a team, we put a lot of focus in, and we worked for each other.”
Though the Buccaneers took a lot of shots in the second half, the quality wasn’t what the Buccaneers are accustomed to producing.
At times, Benjamin forwards shot without much power off their turns, and at other times, they took one touch too many and allowed the Falcons defense to recover.
But ultimately, their volume in the attacking half proved fruitful, as Popilek’s score came off a deflection amidst a messy scrap in the box.
“At the water break in the second half, we switched from a 4-5-1 to a 4-4-2,” Benjamin head coach Hillary Carney said. “We knew we needed to score, so we wanted to throw an extra forward up, so we slid Lily White forward and that gave us a lot more options in the box, or at least around the box. Not a lot of high-quality production, but we got what we needed to get into the PKs.”
2. Benjamin encounter first PKs of the season
The Bucs had not played in a penalty shoot-out this season prior to Wednesday night’s game.
Goalie Logan McGruder is one of just three seniors on the team, and her experience typically comes in handy in moments like Wednesday’s shoot-out.
“Honestly, for our first PKs this year, I thought we did the best we could,” she said. “But we definitely need to work on it a little more."
McGruder came within inches of making diving stops on two different kicks to her left side during the shoot-out, but as head coach Carney put it, PKs can sometimes be a “a coin flip.”
“I play travel soccer, so I've done this quite a bit,” McGruder said. “But for me, I wanted to be there for my team, so I was a little bit nervous that I wasn't going to stop any to help my team out. I really wanted to be there for them and it's the five on my team and myself that it's up to.”
There were certainly highs and lows in the exciting finish to the game, and although Benjamin came out on the short end, the finish was a testament to the Bucs’ mental steel against an experienced team.
3. Full of depth, girls soccer program holds bright future
Benjamin’s girls soccer program had more 8th graders than it had seniors on the roster this year.
That fact alone speaks volumes when it comes to the depth of roster that the Buccaneers have, whether it be those waiting in the wings or those already logging important minutes in game action.
“It's a very young team, but they're very experienced players,” Carney said. "A lot of them have played travel since they were little. For having eighteen-year-old kids who are going off to college to kids that are not even in high school, they have really come together really nicely as a group. And it's shown on the field.”
In addition to the five eighth graders, the Bucs also have five freshmen, including starter Sam Woods.
Benjamin carries an enormous 20-plus player roster, but it’s numbers like these that allow the staff to mix and match depending on matchups and skill-sets.
Some players have notable endurance; others have more in-depth tactical knowledge, Carney says.
“Our middle school program is phenomenal,” she said. “We pull from them, and there are up-and-coming sixth and seventh graders that we know of and have been around. We know they're coming soon. The future is definitely very bright for Benjamin girls soccer.”
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Benjamin girls soccer loses in PKs in Palm League Championship