WESTLAKE — With help from her defense, Brittany Cruz played as well Wednesday night as any area goalkeeper this season.
The Amherst keeper and the defenders in front of her made very few mistakes. But the last one cost the Comets a 2-1 loss to Westlake in a Southwestern Conference thriller that went down to the wire.
The Demons’ Natalie Bechtel, tracking down a through ball, was taken down in the Amherst box in the 55th minute of a 1-1 tie. The officials awarded a penalty kick, coach Scott Jones assigned it to Brooke Henderson and the senior midfielder kicked it into the lower left corner.
The Demons made it hold up for their sixth victory against two losses and three ties. They’re 3-0-2 in SWC play. The Comets fell to 8-3, 2-3 in the conference.
“Our kids played so well,” said Amherst coach Roseann Kuncel. “They were strong from the get-go. They came out strong, they came out with intensity and they were really urgent on the net. It’s unfortunate that a PK decides a game of this nature, because these girls never quit. They left it on the field tonight.”
The Comets did better than that. They dominated much of the first 20 minutes and took a 1-0 lead. It happened in the 18th minute when Angelica Meggitt got a nice crossing pass to Rachel Yacobucci, and Yacobucci scored straight on.
The lead lasted 18 minutes. The Demons got the equalizer seven minutes before the break on A.J. Suever’s goal. Suever got an assist from Bechtel, who was moving down the right flank.
Westlake nearly took the lead three minutes later when Karyn Predergast took control in a crowd in front of the Amherst goal, but Cruz dived out to cover up and end the threat.
Amherst made a push early in the second half and had a chance in the 45th minute. The Comets’ Kelsey Bronson put a hard shot from 30 yards right on the Westlake net on the restart after a Demons foul. But keeper Krysta Falasca came out to make the second of her three saves.
It was 10 minutes later that Bechtel moved into the Amherst box in pursuit of a through-ball.
“I was tracking down a through-ball,” Bechtel said, “and I went to cross it. But the girl kicked my legs out from under me and I went down.”
Henderson, who’s headed for Valparaiso University on a soccer scholarship, stepped up to the 12-yard dot.
“Before you kick it, you have to know where it’s going so it gets there,” Henderson said. “Their goalie shaded a little bit to the right and gave me the left side, so that’s where I went.”
Henderson nearly scored again four minutes later when she fired a shot from 28 yards that forced Cruz to make one of her dozen saves. With a pass from Henderson, Bechtel sent another shot on target six minutes later and in the next two minutes, Cruz twice came off her line to break up serious Westlake threats.
And in a bang-bang sequence, Cruz made two great saves on Demons shots from close range in the 72nd minute.
Even then, the Comets weren’t finished. Bronson took a nice pass from Kelsey Pekare in the 69th minute, but Bronson’s shot was just wide on the right side. And they had two good chances in the 74th and 75th minutes, but Bronson’s shot zinged off the Demons’ right goal post and Pekare, with a pass from Meggitt, banged a shot loudly off the crossbar just above Falasca’s head.
“We haven’t played in two weeks and it showed,” said the Demons’ Jones. “We had homecoming and a rainout and tonight was seniors night, so we’ve had a lot of craziness. But the girls played very hard and I’m pround of them. It seemed like we were just a step off of everything. We weren’t where we were two weeks ago.”
Westlake 2, Amherst 1
GOALS: (A) Rachel Yacobucci, 18th minute. (W) A.J. Suever, 33rd minute; Brooke Henderson (pk), 55th minute..
ASSISTS: (A) Angelica Meggitt. (W) Natalie Bechtel.
SHOTS: Amherst 6, Westlake 15.
SHOTS ON TARGET: Amherst 4, Westlake 9.
SAVES: (A) Brittany Cruz 12, (W) Krysta Falasca 4.
CORNER KICKS: Amherst 0, Westlake 3.
GOAL KICKS: Amherst 5, Westlake 0.
OFFSIDE: Amherst 0, Westlake 9.
HAND BALLS: Amherst 1, Westlake 0.
OTHER INFRACTIONS: Amherst 7, Westlake 10.