SYRACUSE — The bitter taste of defeat always leaves teams feeling even more hungry for their next, sweet victory.
And that's how the Syracuse High girls soccer team played during the first half of Tuesday's Region 1 match with Fremont.
Coming off their first loss of the season last week against Layton, the Titans got goals from Lauren Burnett and Ashlyn Hall, along with strong defensive play and superb goalkeeping by Gabby Segura in a near-flawless first-half performance that gave Syracuse a 2-0 lead at halftime.
But in the second half, the Silver Wolves became the aggressors and, thanks to a goal by Mazzie Melaney in the 67th minute, seized the momentum and were threatening to overtake the Titans.
In the end, it took a brilliant defensive play by Kelsey Steed, who — after Segura had come far out of the box to try to stop a Fremont attack — hustled all the way back to the mouth of the goal and, at the last possible instant, knocked away the Silver Wolves' shot that was headed for the back of the net.
Steed's heads-up play stopped a sure-fire Fremont goal and preserved Syracuse's 2-1 victory.
"I think a two-goal lead is the scariest lead in soccer, I really do," said Syracuse coach Taylor Allen. "I mean they get one goal and the momentum's suddenly on their side, and if they get one more it's tied up.
"Kelsey Steed saved us on that end line when Gabby stepped out 60 yards. Kelsey was outstanding and I'm proud of her. That's good defensive play; it's savvy, it's smart, it's heady, and it got us the three points. Otherwise we're still playing right now."
With the win, Syracuse maintained its share of the league lead at 5-1 and improved to 9-1 overall. Fremont fell to 3-3 in Region 1 and 4-4-1 on the season.
Coach Allen called his team's performance "a tale of two halves," as the fired-up Titans came out strong in the first half, dominated possession and field position and took a seemingly safe 2-0 lead.
The second half, though, was another story.
"We came out angry because we felt like at Layton we let Layton dictate the game," Allen said. "We played angry in the first half, and we didn't play angry in the second and just hung on.
"We wanted to win to get back on top. We knew we wanted to finish the first half (of region play) 5-1. We play a fun style of soccer and we wanted to prove that nobody dictates our style. We wanted to get out scoring, and we did that in the first half.
"But we've got to play 80 minutes," he said. "It felt like our midfield disappeared and Caroline (Stringfellow) wasn't finding the ball, and it's hard to hang onto a game when you're playing defense."
Allen said Tuesday's tense victory over Fremont was a testament to just how strong Region 1 soccer is.
"It's Region 1," he said. "I think it's the toughest region in the state. We got three points, and now we're on to a really, really tough game Thursday. I mean Northridge, they're the real deal.
"I was happy with the first half, not happy with the second half. That was frustrating, but we're happy we gutted out a tough win, and that's a tough (Fremont) team and they came out firing."
Hall and Burnett each missed solid scoring chances in the early going, with Hall's shot sliding just to the left of the goal mouth, while Burnett's blast sailed over the crossbar.
But in the 16th minute, Hall crossed the ball to Burnett in essentially the same spot where she'd shot it from the first time. And this time, Burnett didn't miss.
"On the first one, I kicked it over and on the second one, I got the exact same set-up, just a cross, and I knew I had to keep it low and put it in," Burnett said. "I just needed to keep my body over the ball.
"We just came off a loss and a bye, so we just have been working hard to make sure that we were ready and prepared for this game because we knew it was important. I think we got a little bit stressed in the second half."
Sixteen minutes later, Stringfellow's hard shot came off the hands of the Fremont goalkeeper, who made a great, diving stop on the play. But Hall was right there to poke the ball right back into the net for a 2-0 lead.
"Caroline shot it and I just followed her shot in," Hall said. "We've just been working on moving off of each other, because I know that she can finish and we can feed each other the ball."
Hall, too, realized that while the Titans' first-half effort was outstanding, it was difficult to sustain that intensity in the second half.
"I felt like we were just going at it because we had just come off the loss at Layton and we had been working a lot on just perfecting those things and looking at our mistakes," she said.Comment on this story
"And the second half, we just got a little bit nervous. We've just got to relax and still play our game even when the pressure gets higher."
In the 67th minute, Melaney got loose and fired a 30-yard rocket out of Segura's reach and into the top of the net to make it 2-1, as the Silver Wolves relentlessly picked up their push on the offensive end.
And just when it looked like Fremont's stepped-up effort might be able to send things into overtime, Steed's stellar, hustling back-line save stopped the Silver Wolves' potential game-tying goal and allowed the Titans to hang on for the victory.