UPPER MERION — The Upper Merion girls soccer team will not be denied.
In an exciting back and forth game against Upper Moreland on Thursday afternoon, the Vikings came out on top over their Suburban One American conference foes by a score of 2-1.
It was in the waning minutes of the game that the Vikings capitalized on a throw-in set piece. Upper Merion's Riley Kontra tossed the ball into the danger area, just outside of the six when the ball bounced over an Upper Moreland defender and found the shin of the Vikings' Liz Botto for the game-winning goal.
"I am so happy,' Botto said of her late-game winner. "I've always wanted to have that one game-winning goal, that one big goal. I just really,really wanted to score today.'
That one big goal came at the right time for the Vikings, who after a solid first half performance started reeling in the second.
In the first half it was Upper Merion that took the lead when defender Lexi Ryan whipped in a cross from a corner. The ball was met by Botto and then ricocheted off an Upper Moreland defender for an own-goal past goalie Kim Benge and into the back of the net for the only goal in the first 40 mintues.
As the first half progressed, the Golden Bears had some good looks at the net, but just couldn't find a way to put the ball behind goalkeeper Gabby Legendre.
At the end of the game Upper Moreland coach Lisa Benvenuto was pleased with her team's effort, but noted that it was a lack of rhythm in the beginning of the game that resulted in the scoreline.
"I dont think that we played our best,' Benvenuto said. "I think that we came out a little flat and I think that we came out a step slow. It wasn't our best effort.'
The loss wasn't for a lack of effort on the Bears' part, however. Upper Moreland was almost even with Upper Merion on the number of chances, but Legendre was up to the task.
The Viking goalkeeper made 10 stops when all was said and done. At times she sprinted off her line and made sliding saves on the Bears, keeping her team in the game. Upper Merion went into halftime with a 1-0 lead.
The second half was a different story on both sides of the ball. Upper Moreland always seemed like the team that would come out on top, and the Upper Merion lead was slowly slipping away.
"Basically at halftime I said that we were flat and that in the second half we were going to have the slope and the wind and at that moment and time Upper Merion wanted it more than we did,' Benvenuto said. "In order to win, you have to want to win. You have to have the desire to put that ball away.'
In the second half Upper Moreland put its foot on the pedal and finally beat Legendre.
Senior Morgan Valera sent a low-driven ball from the corner and Veronica Baez connected with her right foot and buried the ball into the net.
"Veronica Baez works hard every game. She works her tail off and she earned that goal today,' Benvenuto said.
The Bears found their way back into the game and were seizing the momentum.
"We played a very good first half. We played disciplined, we played organized,' Larkin said. "Second half they played better. They controlled the game.
"We were able to dig in and play smart defensively, but we were chasing constantly in our defending third.
After that point it was a back and forth affair with neither team taking advantage of their chances.
Upper Moreland suffered a loss after Baez took a knock to the leg and left the game with an injury. The game seemed to be turning in the Vikings' favor.
Ultimately it was the Vikings that would prevail, and when Kontra's throw-in split the Upper Moreland defense, Botto left her stamp on the game. Botto didn't get all of the ball — admitting that the ball struck her shin — but the shot had enough on it to arch over Benge for the game-winner.
"I think what made us win today at the end is that we just had more heart,' Botto said. "The first half we played really well and the second half we didn't play as well with winning balls. I think we made up for it with the other extra effort and playing smart.'
Upper Moreland pressed on after conceding the goal, but Upper Merion did enough to hold on in the end.
Looking back at the key chances for each team, set pieces played an effective role in Upper Merion's success.
"Set pieces are an important part of what we do,' Larkin said. "It certainly is something we really focus on. You could train that very specifically and we get our players in the right places and make things happen that way.'
For a young team like Upper Moreland, they can only go up from here.
"I felt like we used the field wisely, but we were a step slow,' Benvenuto said. "I have to remember that we're young, so its going to be a learning process for everybody.'
Although the Vikings improved their record to 3-2, Larkin still knows that his squad needs to improve on certain aspects of the game.
"We need to play 80 minutes,' Larkin said. "We played I'd say about 65 minutes today of really effective soccer. As we get into the league, as we get to play the teams that are traditionally at the top of our league — if we take two minutes off — they will make us pay.
"Mentally we have to stay sharp for 80 mins and we didn't do that today. We did it in spurts, we just need to do it more consistent.
"It was two different halves. We got the bounce at the end of the game and they didn't,' Larkin said.
The next game for Upper Merion is on the road on Monday against Springfield (M) at 3:30 p.m.