The Pronghorns started the NJCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Championship with a 4-1 victory over Community College of Baltimore County Essex.

In the Pronghorns’ first game in the national tournament on Tuesday night in Melbourne, Florida, the No. 7 Pronghorns (17-2-1) defeated the No. 11 Knights (19-4) in pool play, eliminating them from the tournament. The victory sets up a win-or-go home game on Wednesday against the No. 2 Eastern Florida State College Titans, who defeated the Knights 5-0 on Monday.

“They looked pretty sharp in training and they were very confident in themselves, so not a lot to get worried about,” Pronghorns coach Nate Ulness said about the pre-game jitters going into the team’s first national tournament game. “(We wanted to) just get through that first 5, 10 minutes of that first game, and then once we got through that, it was rolling from there.”

Emma Jarvis broke scoring with 13:45 played in the first half when she tapped in a centering pass from Jaycie Greene. Greene ran with the ball past two defenders near the left corner and kicked it in front of the net. Jarvis redirected it towards the right post, beat the Knights’ goalie Sam Tornatore, hit the inside of the post, and the ball went in for an early 1-0 Pronghorns’ lead.

“We had watched them play the day before against the Florida team, and we noticed that they were really narrow,” Greene said. “It was definitely part of the game plan to be able to play out wide and get down the line, and then pummel it back in for someone to finish on.”

Less than 5 minutes later, Pronghorns’ defender Sarah Williams showed off her leg strength when she blasted a free kick from about 40 yards out. The ball soared through the air and arced into the space right below the top post. Tornatore got a hand on it and tried to force it out, but the ball hit off her hand and up into the top of the net for a 2-0 Pronghorns lead in the 19th minute.

“I scored from there before and I kind of know I can hit it from that far,” Williams said. “When I got it I just set it up, and I just kind of knew I was going to shoot it.

“It’s definitely one of my strengths and something I can add to the team.”

In the middle of the second half, a Knights’ defender tried to kick the ball out of her own zone but it banked off Jarvis and went right to Pronghorns midfielder Kelsey Hogan. Hogan passed it to Greene in front of the net, and Greene chipped it over a defender and into the net for a 3-0 lead.

The Knights responded with 17:12 left to play in the second half when freshman Knight forward Kara Dietrich scored on Pronghorns goalkeeper Nia Trejo to cut the deficit to 3-1. Dietrich made the best of a hiccup from Pronghorns’ defender Sydney Thompson, who kicked the ball into her teammate and the ball deflected and landed right in front of Dietrich near the net.

Dietrich was the second-leading scorer in NJCAA Division I women’s soccer going into the game with 51 goals on the season.

Pronghorns midfielder Liliana Hernandez scored on a penalty kick with 13:29 to play to make for a final score of 4-1.

“We definitely did kind of walk in with a bit of swag, like, ‘We did it. Here we are,’” Greene said. “But I think we knew that we were still kind of in an underdog position and that we really needed to work hard to be able to make it all the way.”

Trejo played aggressively in the net all game and came out to contest players on scoring opportunities multiple times.

“She was a lot more comfortable in the game. She was very confident in herself, and she was big off her line. She was aggressive. She was communicating,” Ulness said.

The temperature at the start of the game was 67 degrees and clear at Eastern Florida State College’s Orlando Health Stadium. Melbourne is at about 20 feet above sea level compared to Gillette’s 4,554 feet.

Gillette College will play undefeated No. 2 Eastern Florida State College (15-0), which is hosting the tournament, on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. MDT. Each team defeated Community College of Baltimore County Essex in the first games of pool play. If Gillette College wins, the Pronghorns will win the three-team pool and head to the semifinals Friday.

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