MECCA - Going into halftime with the match tied at Maplewood on Wednesday afternoon, John F. Kennedy interim coach Rob Merlo was not thrilled with his team's performance.
The Eagles gave up a goal right before halftime, and they weren't creating the necessary chances at the other end during the first 40 minutes. Thus, during the halftime talk, he told his team the gameplan to turn the match around.
"Today, we really didn't play up to our potential," Merlo said. "I think a lot of that had to do with Maplewood's a good team. They're very well-coached, but we need to improve going into the playoffs.
"We had to slow the game down a little bit. We were playing way more direct than we wanted to play. So, we toned it down a little bit, got some drops in there and got the ball behind their defense. That was our goal, get behind the defense."
It didn't take long for the players to put into motion the gameplan. The Eagles scored around 30 seconds into the second half, a goal that galvanized Kennedy to a 4-1 win over the Rockets at the Maplewood Athletic Complex.
The big goal came when senior co-captain Nicole Rodomsky nipped the ball off a Maplewood (7-6-2) defender and took a few dribbles before letting one fly from the edge of the penalty box. Fellow co-captain Natalie Hoso, a senior co-captain, said scoring the goal so early in the second half set the tone for the Eagles (10-6) during the final 40 minutes.
"Our team philosophy is as soon as we score a goal, we try to score another one within 5 minutes," Hoso said. "To get a goal, it pumps up the team so much because we know we need to make that stipulation to score another goal in 5 minutes."
It may have taken more than 5 minutes for Kennedy to find the back of the net, but it was Hoso who led the charge.
To go along with the match's opening goal in the 19th minute, Hoso found the back of the net twice in the second half. First, in the 59th minute, she muscled a defender off the ball on a breakaway to score and then in the 75th minute, she completed the hat trick by receiving a pass from Hannah Roberts to cap off a counterattack.
Overall, Hoso's shot was dangerous throughout the match, including one shot in the 26th minute that forced Maplewood goalkeeper Gracie Schwartz to make a diving stop.
"Natalie's got a great foot," Merlo said. "She has probably one of the strongest shots I've seen. She's a senior, she knew this was her last regular-season game and we've been talking about it all season as the season for the seniors. That's just a senior stepping up, and she just didn't want to lose."
Hoso, Rodomsky and other Eagles had success in the second half thanks to Maplewood throwing caution to wind and pushing numbers forward in an attempt to get back in the match. Rockets coach Adrienne Bland said the team has faced similar defensive situations before, but Kennedy managed to complete the right passes at the right times.
"We've recovered from those kind of situations before," Bland said. "It just happened to work out (for Kennedy). They played great balls through, and they just beat us."
With this match being the season finale for Kennedy, the Eagles can turn their sights to the tournament. Kennedy has a bye and will enter at the sectional final round on Oct. 17, and its opponent could be a familiar one. The Eagles will play the winner of Maplewood and Lordstown - the two face off on Monday.
Even though the Eagles won on Wednesday, Hoso said they won't have an edge mentally, pointing to the first 40 minutes of the match and the special atmosphere of the tournament.
"This team came out so hard today, and we came out a little rough around the edges," Hoso said. "Playoff time, the hype is going to be so high for both teams, so it will be a toss up again. I don't think we should go into the game thinking that we have it in the bag because anything can happen.