Florida Tech Panthers Hang On In Home Opener, Defeat Eckerd 2-1

By  //  September 21, 2015

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Finally able to put their challenging five-game road trip in the rearview mirror, the Florida Tech Panthers didn’t disappoint in their home debut Saturday night. (Image by Ryan Seeloff)

BREVARD COUNTY • MELBOURNE, FLORIDA – Finally able to put their challenging five-game road trip in the rearview mirror, the Florida Tech Panthers didn’t disappoint in their home debut Saturday night.

Keyed by a strong start, and goals from both Keira McCarthy and Mary Watson, the Panthers withstood a late push to slip past Sunshine State Conference foe Eckerd 2-1 at Rick Stottler Field.

“Regardless of how you get it, you take it,” head coach Dustin Smith said in reference to his first career SSC win.

“Conference victories are very difficult to come by, whether you’re at home or on the road. From top to bottom, as I’ve said since day one, this is the toughest conference in the country. It was very important to get the win tonight.”

Offensively, Florida Tech took the game to the Tritons early on. However, the Crimson and Gray were slow to capitalize on its presented opportunities.

In the ninth minute, midfielder Eva Banton was taken down in the box after a nice run towards the Eckerd net. Her penalty kick attempt missed high, though, keeping the game knotted at 0-0.

Minutes later, it was McCarthy threatening, only this time the shot ricocheted off the right post.

Forcing continuous pressure onto the defense in the first half, it was only time before McCarthy would cash in. That time came in the 21st minute for the Melbourne High School product. After gaining possession in the box, McCarthy spun and fired perfectly into the right upper corner of the goal to give Florida Tech its first lead of the match.

One of four freshmen to start Saturday’s contest for the Panthers, McCarthy now trails only Sierra Lelii of Nova Southeastern for the league-lead in goals with six.

Dustin Smith
Dustin Smith

“Whether you’re a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior, we’re going to put the players on the field we feel give us the best opportunity to win,” said head coach Dustin Smith, when asked about the level of play from his freshmen.

“Pointing that out, though, I think we have tremendous upside moving forward. Again, if you’re performing you’re going to see the pitch.”

With Florida Tech still in front 1-0 in the 52nd minute, Watson missed wide on a look she wished she had back. Lucky for her, Watson got that chance less than a minute later as she flicked the ball over a diving Eckerd goalkeeper and into the net for her first score of the season.

Despite trailing 2-0, the Tritons didn’t wilt. Awarded a free kick from outside the right edge of the box in the 74th minute, Eckerd’s Michelle Spesshardt’s low shot somehow managed to find a crease through a wall of defenders and past keeper Julia Kantor to cut the deficit to 2-1.

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Feeding off the momentum, Eckerd continued to surge forward, but was turned away by the Florida Tech defense when it mattered most.

Dating back to the start of 2007, Florida Tech has now won eight of its last nine regular season home openers.

“The difference is you can feed off the ‘12th man’,” said Smith.

“You’re getting tired there at the end, but are able to push through with the adrenaline. On the road, you don’t get that extra boost.”

The Panthers will head back out on the road for their next match this upcoming Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET in a clash with Saint Leo.

The Lions ousted FIT 3-1 in last year’s SSC Tournament.

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