The 19th ranked Akron Zips came to Pittsburgh as a team on a mission, winning its fifth game in a row, to hand the Pitt Panthers a home loss in its final non-conference match of the season.
Pitt (8-8, 2-5 in ACC), playing shorthanded without five starters, surrendered a goal in the second minute, then played on even terms until late in the match when the Zips counter punched the Panthers twice with quick strikes.
“We were behind the eight ball, all along, it was an interesting one, and shows where the program is,” Jay Vidovich said. “It’s shows that when you lose like that, without a number of our starters, we’re not complete.
Akron’s Nick Hinds scored twice, including the game’s opening goal, after wild sequence when his teammate Joe Korb powered by Pitt defender Mauriq Hill to advance deep into the box. As the ball was knocked away by Pitt keeper Mikel Outcault, Hinds swept in to get enough on the ball to get it into the goal.
While the teams played out the rest of the first half on even terms, trading five shots each, Pitt took an additional blow before in the 41st minute, as senior captain, Bryce Cregan went down with an leg injury after being clipped by Akron’s Ezana Kahsay.
While Cregan remained down, teams began pushing and shoving, but eventualy cooler heads prevailed as Kahsay was issued a yellow card for the foul. Cregan, who transferred to Pitt in 2016 from Akron, would not come back into the game.
Vidovich said that Cregan was with the Pitt medical and training staff for the remainder of the game, and will likely have to get an MRI and further evaluation on Wednesday.
“He’s our leader. He’s our captain. After we had some trouble early, he really settled everyone down out there,” Vidovich said. “He was fantastic tonight. At halftime tonight, everyone saw their captain injured, and it provided a little inspiration. He’s a big part of what we’re trying to do, and I can’t thank him enough for all his efforts.”
Pitt couldn’t get the equalizer even with decent spells of possession throughout the 2nd half.
Until they got that second goal, we were very much in it,” Vidovich said. “It was a strange one. We were pushing it. We had more opportunities, better and cleaner chances then they did. But our consistency wasn’t there.”
Akron scored again twice in a matter of minutes to put the game away late in the second half.
First, on a counter, that ended as Skye Harter put through a left footed blast from 12 yards, right after Pitt had a strong run of play that included lots of possession.
Then Hinds put the match out of reach with his second goal of the night in the 81st minute, after nice through ball from Stuart Holthusen that picked apart the Panthers back line.
It was the Panthers biggest margin of defeat in a season which has seen the program experienced the start of a turn-around.
But Vidovich knows, there’s much more work to be done.
“Ask me where we are as a team, and this and that, and in a way, we’re behind as a program,” Vidovich explained. “We’ve left games on the table. We think we could have won more games. The biggest thing, to build a better program, we have to improve our depth. The numbers in the program, we’ll have to keep improving.”
Akron out-shot Pitt 10-5, while finishing with a 6-5 edge in corners.
Pitt was playing without five regular starters, including : Tom Ekpone, Javi Perez and Macony Pimental.
Ekpone picked up red card against Virginia late in Friday’s match which the Panthers lost 2-1 in Overtime. Perez accumulated his fifth yellow card as well, so he has to sit out Tuesday’s game.
Pitt concludes the regular season Friday, Oct. 27 when Virginia Tech makes the trip to Pittsburgh.