Assistant Sports Editor
HOOSICK, N.Y. -- One of the biggest questions facing the Hoosick Falls Central School girls soccer team this season was how the defense would cope after losing all four starters off the back line.
On Thursday, the back line of Kelly Pine, Alyssa Houghton, Hannah Lilac, and Claire Seifert showed just how far they have come this year as the Panthers blanked rival Hoosic Valley 5-0 in the final regular season game of the season after narrowly edging out the Indians 4-3 earlier in the campaign.
"At the beginning of the year, the back line was trying to learn each other," coach Tom Husser said. "Each game, we have been getting better and better. I've always said that the defense is a team within a team, and they are starting to become just that."
The game was one that the Panthers controlled from the first kick.
After Jordyn Haynes and Mackenzie Hinchliffe saw two shots saved by Hoosic keeper Samantha Carlo in the opening minutes, the two combined to score the opener when Haynes played a ball in to Hinchliffe, who saw one shot rebound back to her before her second was driven into the net.
A few minutes later, and Hinchliffe would set up Haynes for the second to give the Panthers a commanding 2-0 lead.
"They beat us to every ball today," Hoosic Valley coach Joel Beecroft said. "They wanted it a little bit more than we did."
The score would remain 2-0 going into halftime, although Rachel Pine was unlucky not to add a third after she had a thunderous shot bang off of the crossbar and back into play.
"[The win] definitely feels good, especially going into Sectionals," Hinchliffe said. "It will help us get momentum. And they are a good team, it is nice to beat a good team in the last game."
In the second half, the Panthers would tinker with th lineup some, but the goals kept coming.
Hinchliffe would set up Haynes for the third goal, releasing her down the right only for Haynes to shoot back across the face of goal and into the left sidenetting.
A few minutes later and Hinchliffe, a senior, would bag her second on Senior Day.
Getting the ball in the box, Hinchliffe muscled her way around two defenders before freeing up enough space for a shot, putting it home low from six yards out.
Hinchliffe would round out the scoring just before the final whistle.
Dribbling around the edge of the penalty area on the right, Hinchliffe decided to let go of a shot. Sending it back across the face of goal, Hinchliffe buried it into the top corner.
"I've been begging her all year to shoot from the outside," Husser said. "She has the shot, and she definitely has the foot. We need her to open up the field. When she does that, it opens things up for [Haynes]."
For Hinchliffe, the hat trick was a nice way for the senior to cap off her regular season.
"It was really exciting, considering it is my senior game. But it is a team effort, and everyone contributes a lot on this team."
As for Beecroft, the Hoosic Valley coach is happy Hinchliffe is graduating.
"She is that good of a player," Beecroft said. "I like her, I really do. But I'm not sorry to see her graduate."
Senior Hannah Fricke made five saves for the Panthers in the win, all of them coming very comfortably.
It was a testament to the defense, as the back line was able to deal with most of the threats well and corrall the Indians' attackers away from the danger area and out onto the flanks.
"We gave up three goals to them last time," Husser said. "To go from 3 to 0 is amazing."
The win gives the Panthers a 14-2-0 mark to end the season, with a 10-2-0 mark in the Wasaren League. The Panthers will head into Sectionals looking for their third-straight title.
"[This win] gives us a lot of momentum," Hinchliffe said. "[Hoosic Valley] beat Schuylerville (a team Hoosick Falls lost two twice this year), and Schuylerville is a Class B team. We are pumped to get Sectionals underway."