Yana Penzone had a three-minute stretch indicative to how well life has been for the Pensacola Catholic girls soccer team as of late.
Facing Pensacola High on Tuesday night, the junior midfielder collected a clean tackle on Tigers senior defender Avery Vargason before firing a low, knuckling shot toward goal in the 68th minute. PHS recorded the save, but Penzone was heard from moments later.
The junior accounted for another takeaway on the Tigers' side of the field before forcing a corner kick in the 70th minute. Senior midfielder Emily Doyle sent in the corner to the back post, which Penzone headed into the back of the net.
"I think that whenever I just see the ball, I try to be there and try to turn it over," the junior said. "Mostly if I have a chance to shoot and score, I do it. ... So I saw my chance and I took it."
Penzone's splendid effort put the Crusaders up 2-0. That score held till the final whistle at Gorecki-LeBeau Stadium.
"What most impressed me I think was the fight that we had," Crusaders head coach Mark Yepishin said. "We've had a few games where we've given up with the energy. Here, we were just going toe-to-toe with the other team. We weren't giving them any life, just pushing forward and pushing forward. Doing that, eventually we'd get something and that's what worked out for us."
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Catholic had a brutal start to the season, losing its first four matches by a combined margin of 15-2.
However, beginning with a 1-1 draw on Nov. 19 at Pensacola, the Crusaders are unbeaten in their last six matches. They've outscored their opponents 18-5 within that stretch.
Doyle has been the offensive force that's kept the team afloat. The senior has eight goals and seven assists this season. During the team's 8-0 win against Walton last Thursday, the Mississippi College commit notched her 100th career point.
"For our first four games, we were more defensive minded. We would play in our defending third a lot," Doyle said. "As soon as we started having practices that were more offensive-thinking possession-wise, then we started getting forward more and getting more goals."
Despite a scoreless first half, Pensacola Catholic controlled possession and had the majority of the game's quality chances through the first 40 minutes. The team's persistence was rewarded, albeit with an unlikely score.
On a Crusaders corner in the 55th minute, a Tigers defender seemingly cleared the ball out of harms way. However, racing in from the center circle, junior Caroline Struck floated in a shot from 35 yards out that froze the goalkeeper and trickled into the left side of the net.
Despite being outplayed to that point, Pensacola was one solid touch away from changing the complexion of the match. Two minutes before Struck lit up the scoreboard, the visitors had their best shot of scoring.
Tigers sophomore forward Keybi Sauceda made a nice push up the field before delivering a pass to senior captain Sophia Witkin. From the left side of the box, the midfielder sent a cross into the middle, but sophomore midfielder Lauren Vann couldn't corral it a few feet from goal.
Few other opportunities were created for a Pensacola team that's been undermanned so far this season. The team is playing without senior star Sophia Nguyen, who is out for the season after suffering a posterior cruciate ligament tear in her left knee just weeks before the season opener.
"We've been riding some injuries and some things not going our way," Tigers head coach Michael Thomas said. "I think if we score the first goal cause it was a tap-in, I think it would've been a different game. But I'm still proud of them. They're working hard, that's the most important thing."
Combined with getting players late into the fold from fall sports, injuries were one of the reason's behind Catholic's slow start.
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Freshman center back Emma Lacour has missed a portion of the season, as has Penzone, who missed a number of games after suffering a concussion.
Now as the team is regaining its health, Penzone is glad to be a part of Catholic's upward trajectory.
"I'm with the team that I love, the team culture is amazing," she said. "Everyone is bringing each other up and I think it's just great to be back with the team that I love."
Dropping to 3-3-1, the Tigers play at 5 p.m. Thursday at Pine Forest. As for the Crusaders, they resume a four-game home stretch against Crestview at 7 p.m. Friday.
With a win against the Bulldogs, Catholic will be at the .500 mark for the first time all season. That would be quite the milestone after a slow start. They've needed 10 matches, but the Crusaders are in sync.
"It's taken time to get use to each other," Yepishin said. "The girls are finally playing the possession style I want them to play, passing the ball, moving and playing with no fear.
"I tell the girls to play with no fear and they're slowing understanding what that means; to go out there and have fun."
Patrick Bernadeau can be reached at email@example.com, @PatBernadeau on Twitter or (850) 503-3828.
This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Girls Soccer: Catholic keeps unbeaten streak alive after beating PHS