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Led by Leah Pais’ brace, Pitt charges by Cincinnati, 2-0, to equal best start in program history

Photo courtesy Pitt Athletics

Leah Pais came off the bench to provide a pair of second-half goals that came just three minutes apart from each other and lifted the Pitt women’s soccer team (6-0-0) to a 2-0 victory over previously unbeaten Cincinnati (3-1-2) Sunday at Ambrose Urbanic Field. The Panthers matched the 2020 Pitt squad for the best start to a season in program history.

“It’s a new era, and we’re trying to build confidence through each and every player, freshman to senior,” Pais said. “The games are going to only get harder, and Cincinnati wasn’t an easy team. And so the confidence builds against Cincinnati, zero goals put through, and now it’s on to the next game. We keep standards for ourselves.”

Pitt has now outscored the opposition 24-1 this season, including 21-1 over the last four games and 15-0 over the last three. The Panthers have now posted five shutouts in six tries and have already tied for the fifth-most shutouts in a single season in program history.

“The one thing we talk about here is, our game motto is we want to dominate the ball,” associate head coach Ben Waldrum said. “When you have more of the ball than your opponent, it certainly helps you defensively as well. I think it’s a credit to both sides of the ball.”

The Panthers prevailed despite losing top player Amanda West to injury in the 13th minute. Pais replaced West in the lineup, and the Panthers didn’t miss a beat, maintaining control of possession and dictating the pace of the contest.

“It feels amazing,” Pais said of her performance against Cincinnati. “Although I didn’t start, you still have a role to fill on the team, and it’s next man up. You gotta fill the role that needs to be done and I said, ‘Hey, you came in and you need to put the ball in the back of the net or help someone put the ball in the back of the net,’ and I just did it.”

Pais finally broke a scoreless deadlock in the 61st minute off a feed from Samiah Phiri. Phiri lured a pair of defenders down near the goal line and then fired a perfect pass between them to Pais, who was waiting at the top right corner of the penalty box. Pais fired a ball from her right foot that sailed over the outstretched arms of Cincinnati goalkeeper Anna Rexford and settled into the bottom left corner of the net.

“Sam held that center back off really, really well,” Pais said. “She’s an amazing player. She knows how to get the ball through and around people. She had two players on her, and she just kind of slipped it through both of them, and I looked up and said, ‘I’ve done this before, I’m going to try and do it again,’ and I looked up and it was back post.”

Pais then tacked on an insurance goal for Pitt in the 64th minute with an assist from Keera Melenhorst. Melenhorst sent a strong pass from the top right of the penalty arc to a waiting Pais, who shot the ball with her right foot to the right corner of the net and beat Rexford again. The goals marked the first two of the season for Pais and increased her career total to 11. Her multi-goal effort marked the third of her career and first since 2020.

The Panthers finished the game outshooting the Bearcats, 20-7, with Landy Mertz leading the way with six shots and Pais tallying five, four of which were on goal.

Caitlyn Lazzarini played all 90 minutes in goal for Pitt and came away with her third shutout of the season and sixth of her career. With a clean sheet of 405 minutes on the season, she now boasts a 6-0-0 record on the year and a 14-6-0 mark for her career.

PITT NOTES

  • Pitt picked up its first win over Cincinnati in four tries, with the Panthers improving to 1-2-1 all-time against the Bearcats.
  • The Panthers are now 37-34-1 under the leadership of fifth-year head Randy Waldrum. After going 9-22-4 in the first two years of a massive rebuild, Pitt has gone 28-14 over the last two-plus seasons.
  • Samiah Phiri registered her second assist as a Panther while Keera Melenhorst recorded her first point at Pitt with her assist.
  • Fifth-year head coach Randy Waldrum was absent from Pitt’s bench on Sunday against Cincinnati as he is performing his duties as head coach of the Nigeria Women’s Senior National Team. The Super Falcons are taking on the United States Women’s National Team in a pair of exhibition matches, with the first being played Saturday at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, a 4-0 victory for the US. The second match will be played on Tuesday at Audi Field in Washington, D.C. (6 p.m., ESPN2). Waldrum will return to coach Pitt in their next game at VCU on Thursday.

John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets. He is also author of 'Miracle on the Mon' -- a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium with the narrative leading up to and centered around a remarkable match that helped provide a spark for the franchise. John has covered sports for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the US. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

Riverhounds MF Danny Griffin

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