HARROD — After losing eight seniors from last year’s Northwest Conference championship girls’ soccer team, Bluffton head coach Jamie Mehaffie knew the returners would need to step up quickly this season.
And they have responded.
After Bluffton’s 3-2 victory over Allen East on Tuesday at Goodwin Field, the Pirates are the lone undefeated team in the NWC.
Bluffton improves to 4-0 in the NWC and 7-2-1 overall. Allen East slips to 3-1 in league play and 8-2 overall.
“We’ve got a handful (of players) back from last year – as far as getting varsity time,” Mehaffie said. “But at the beginning of the season, we had to replace eight starters. So, as the season started, I told them that they needed to figure out how to play with each other. Each game, we’re seeing more and more of it. So, it’s great to see them coming together, and playing the way we think they can.”
In the first half Tuesday, Bluffton mustered just two direct shots toward Allen East goalkeeper Madison Jackson (four saves for the game), while Allen East fired three shots toward Bluffton goalkeeper Kynzie Ewing (five saves).
At the half, the match was knotted at 1 apiece.
Allen East’s Dylan Miller got the Mustangs on the scoreboard first with a shot in front of the goal, off a nice feed from a corner kick by Rilynn Jones, less than five minutes into the match.
However, at the 10:13 mark of the first half, Bluffton’s Aubrey Burkholder drilled a shot to the back of the net from a good 15 yards away, to knot the score at 1 apiece.
In the second half, Allen East pulled out to a 2-1 lead at the 33:30 mark, off a penalty kick by Rilynn Jones.
However, Bluffton responded.
At the 21:12 mark, Burkholder scored off a long-range shot from the left corner of the box to knot the game, 2-2.
For the game, Burkholder had three of her team’s six shots on goal.
Then, about five minutes later, the Pirates recorded the go-ahead goal, when Mya McDougle scored off a feed from Marley Kindle.
Mehaffie said it took a while Tuesday for his team to get into a rhythm.
“I think part of it, is that this is only our second game on (artificial) turf. I know the first game (on turf), it took us a good 15, 20 minutes to get used to it. A lot of the passes we are used to are small passes. … It works great on grass, but it just rolls a little more on here (turf). So, it took a little more time to get used to,” Mehaffie said.
On the night, Bluffton had two corner kicks. Allen East had four corner kicks.
Mehaffie felt like his team wasn’t quite ready, early on.
“We sort of gift them a goal in the first half – just sort of a slip through the hand,” Mehaffie said. “But I like how we came back and cleaned it up. We gave them a PK (penalty kick) in the second half, and we were able to fight back. So, I like the fight that we had. I think we need to settle down a little bit more.
“We’ve been talking about possessing the ball and making teams chase. I thought we did a better job with that in the second half.”
Bluffton will have a huge test Thursday when it goes on the road to face Western Buckeye League-leader Ottawa-Glandorf.
“Playing O-G is a great opportunity to kind of see where we are at,” Mehaffie said.
Shots on goal: Bluffton 6, Allen East 6
Goals: Bluffton – Aubrey Burkholder 2, Mya McDougle 1; Allen East – Dylan Miller 1, Rilynn Jones 1 (PK)
Assists: Bluffton – Marley Kindle
Corner Kicks: Bluffton – 2, Allen East 4
Records: Bluffton – 7-2-1, 4-0-0 NWC; Allen East – 8-2-0, 3-1-0 NWC
Reach The Lima News sports department at 567-242-0451.