FINKSBURG — Gerstell senior Gabby Manning is used to taking penalty kicks.
The Falcons defender said she is usually the teammate trusted with the task — it’s almost like a second nature to her.
Manning saw her first chance of the new season come a little more than 25 minutes into Tuesday’s game against Liberty. She angled her shot to the right of the goal and fired it beyond Lions goalie Caitlin Mulholland.
It was the lone goal, and the Falcons walked away victorious on their home field in the season opener for both teams.
“It was great,” Manning said. “It’s always a fun game when we’re playing county teams but I’m really glad we held them off because that was one of the things we really wanted to work on was our intensity and we really kept it up in the second half, so I’m glad.”
Gerstell and Liberty maintained a balanced attack through a majority of the first half and the Lions came close to scoring on a number of attempts throughout the contest. At one point during the game, Lions coach Danielle Prietz told her girls the transition out of the back needed to be quick.
Falcons sophomore Emily Messinese was chased down by a Lions defender in the middle of a breakaway and when Messinese let the ball loose, it hit the arm of the Lions’ player to set up Manning’s penalty kick.
The Falcons maintained a strong defensive front as the half closed out.
“Our defense played really well,” Gerstell coach Giuliano Celenza said. “They held a good Liberty team scoreless, they battled. They were a good team and for us to hold them off was huge. We scored early and we had to hold them off for a good 60-70 minutes and to do it against a good team was good to see.”
Lions junior forward Alanna Wray fired a shot on goal and a free kick a few minutes later that was halted by the Falcons’ defense in the second half. The team garnered a corner kick opportunity, but it was kicked out to midfield by a Gerstell defender.
With 11:53 remaining, Lions junior defender found Ashleigh Brown open who took off running down the right side of the field. She fired a shot that sailed just outside right of the net.
Gerstell gained possession toward the end of the contest and one of the Falcons’ attackers sent a shot to the top right corner that was batted just out of the way by Mulholland, a move that garnered cheers from the Lions’ sideline.
Mulholland, who led the county with a .935 save percentage last season, made seven saves in her senior premiere for the Lions (0-1). The team returns with a large junior class that should provide the team with a solid base for depth and success this season.
Celenza, a Baltimore native, played 11 seasons with the Baltimore Blast, a professional indoor soccer team. Celenza is in his fourth year as head coach of the Falcons and led the team to a 13-3 record in 2017.
“It was a big win, especially against a county school," Celenza said. “The girls dug deep and weathered the storm and we were able to get out with a ‘W’ here. They never gave up, they worked hard and that’s all I can really ask of them.”