Smyrna edges Middletown 4-2 in hockey home opener

Smyrna’s Emily Thompson, who scored the Eagles’ first goal, brings the ball up field against Middletown’s Kaitlyn Murphy during Thursday’s game at Smyrna. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

SMYRNA — A barrage of Lexi Moore shots put the pressure on the back line early and often.

The Smyrna High senior forward peppered Middletown High with eight shots, two of which hit the back of the cage, as the Eagles pulled away with a 4-2 victory in their field hockey home opener Thursday afternoon.

Smyrna edged Middletown in penalty corners, 17-7, while outshooting the Cavaliers 15-5.

“We have a very quick, strong offense, and they showed that today,” said Smyrna coach Nicki Shirey. “They’re still settling in, with it being the beginning of the season. We have to work out a few kinks, but so far I think this is a great start to our season.”

In two nonconference games, the Eagles (2-0) have outscored opponents 12-3.

The win marks the third consecutive year that the Eagles have defeated the Cavaliers (0-2).

Smyrna’s Madison Simpson runs toward the goal against Middletown’s Kaitlyn Murphy.

Smyrna opens Henlopen Conference Northern Division play at home next Tuesday against Sussex Tech High.

“It’s very important for us to get the momentum early in the season with some big games coming up,” said Shirey. “This is definitely going to help carry us into those conference games.”

The two Moore goals, assisted by fellow senior forward Jessica Bergold on both plays, came within the last 2:15 of the first half.

She snuck one past the goalkeeper at the 2:15 mark to extend the lead to 2-0 before driving the ball for her second score on a penalty corner as time expired in the half.

“It definitely put some security in there for us,” said Shirey. “Lexi is good in high-pressure situations and she can take that ball down the field and it’s very hard to catch her. She’s very good at executing under pressure, so she did her job today for sure.”

Bergold and junior forward Emily Thompson also contributed goals for the Eagles, with Moore providing the assist on Bergold’s goal and sophomore Madison Simpson providing the assist on Thompson’s first half goal.

Bergold was coming off a hat trick in Smyrna’s season-opening 8-1 win over Appoquinimink High on Tuesday.

Junior goalkeeper Brynn Rifino made three saves for the Eagles.

Smyrna’s Payton Dixon, right, battles Middletown’s Kaitlyn Murphy in the first half.

Middletown’s goals were scored by senior Kathryn McMenamin and sophomore Remington Lewis; goalkeeper Jenna Donovan collected eight saves.

While the first 16 minutes featured limited scoring opportunities for both teams, the Eagles’ offense broke the game open once Thompson’s shot hit the back of the cage with 14:04 left in the half.

The front line continued applying pressure in front of the cage, which led to Moore’s pair of goals just before the break.

“It was pretty huge,” Moore said. “Our coach always says we need to score in the first couple minutes, and we didn’t do that, so I knew if we didn’t score in the first, we had to score in the second. I just did my job.”

Middletown applied its own offensive pressure inside the circle during those last two minutes of the half, as well. The Cavs earned three consecutive corner attempts but were unable get the ball past Smyrna’s back line and goalkeeper.

“We have a very young midfield and defensive area, and they’re definitely stepping up and working together,” said Shirey. “It’s good that they can rely on each other.”

It took just three minutes into the second half for the Cavaliers to breakup the shutout bid as McMenamin used an assist from Lewis to put her team on the board at the 27:01 mark.

Bergold extended the Smyrna lead to 4-1 with her goal at the 10:24 mark.

Lewis cut the lead in half for Middletown with her unassisted goal at the 6:11 mark, but it wasn’t enough to spark a comeback.

With just four goals on nearly 20 corner attempts, Smyrna would like to capitalize on those opportunities inside the circle a little more often when they open division play next week.

“We just need to look at the corners,” Moore said. “We’re never going to make it through the goalie’s pads, so we just need to work on the corners and try to get it to the far corner because most likely it’s always open.”

Reach staff writer Ben Heck at bheck@newszap.com

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