J.M. Bennett 3 — Easton 0

EASTON — The Clippers may not be as skilled as last year, but they still know how to win.

Olivia Owens scored all three goals Monday evening as James M. Bennett High’s girls’ soccer team opened its season with a 3-0 victory over Easton.

The Clippers, last year’s Bayside Championship champions, limited the Warriors’ offense to six shots on goal and keeper Caroline Scott stopped a penalty kick by Easton’s Lily Osborne to keep the Warriors off the scoreboard.

“First game, I thought we played well, just slow to start,” Clippers head coach Edmund O’Leary said. “The passes went a little bit astray, early season stuff, but we’re a different team from a year ago. Last year we had great skill, graduated eight seniors, but this is a more physical team. They’re not afraid and they go hard. We saw tonight, even though they were under pressure quite a bit, they kept on beating and banging. And if we get the ball up top enough, we score.”

A back-and-forth game throughout the contest, the playmaking skills of Owens, a senior striker, proved pivotal. She broke a scoreless tie with her first goal with 13 minutes, 43 seconds left in the first half, added another goal with 9:35 to go in the half, and finished her hat trick with 26:10 remaining in the game.

Collecting a feed from Kylee Shannon on a fast break, Owens dodged a defender and rolled a right-footer into the right side of the net, past Easton goalie Jess Millard, to make it 1-0.

Three minutes later Owens was pulled down battling with Easton’s Corinne Mead and was awarded a free kick from about 30 yards out. She blasted an arcing shot over the head of Millard and into the far side of the cage to make it 2-0.

Millard kept the Clippers’ lead to 2-0 with a save that thwarted a shot by Shannon, after a lead pass by Owens, with 3 minutes left in the half.

The Warriors continued to battle. A shot by Easton’s Julia Hammons sailed over the crossbar with 2:24 remaining in the half. Three minutes into the second half, Scott stopped a direct kick by Mead from 25 yard outs. Osborne drilled a long shot over the goal with 33:20 remaining. A rush by Osborne on the right wing ended with a blocked shot that created a corner kick. Seconds later a hand-ball call in the penalty area on defender Lindsay Stetzer gave Easton its best opportunity to score. But Scott lunged left to stop Osborne’s penalty kick to preserve the shutout.

A little over two minutes later, at 26:10, Owens beat a defender on the right side of the scoring box and tucked a left-footer into the right side of the goal to make it 3-0.

“We’ve got some great strikers, we’ve got Liv. We can play,” O’Leary said. “We have the Bayside goalie of the year still there. She’s a junior and she’s just a class player. And we’ve got two really strong center defenders who are seniors, Amelia Hall and Morgan Riley. They’re not afraid. They know it’s their last year and they want it to be a good year.”

Play continued back-and-forth but the Clippers’ defense — Scott, teammates Hall, Riley, Stetzer, Leigha Early, Katie Mitchell, and others — didn’t budge.

The Clippers amassed 17 shots (12 on goal) compared to 12 for Easton. Millard recorded nine saves. Scott stopped five Easton shots on goal and midfielder Callie McLaughlin redirected one Warrior shot over the crossbar.

“I don’t think they’re a better team than us. I think they had a couple players that shined tonight that we just weren’t able to shut down,” Warriors head coach Elle Pennington said. “We’re still working on some team chemistry things, first touch, some fundamental things that need to improve moving on in order to take down tough opponents like we’re going to see, and that we saw in Bennett tonight.”

Easton (1-1) had opened its season with a 4-0 victory over Snow Hill on Friday night, getting two goals from freshman McKenna Pritchett, and one each from juniors Osborne and Karlie Roberts. Salma Sesay provided an assist and Millard had four saves.

Follow me on Twitter @csknauss / email me at cknauss@stardem.com

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