Robbins, stout defense send Johnston past EP

Johnston Sun Rise ·

To East Providence, Bianca Robbins may as well have been a 10,000-piece puzzle.

The Townies had blown out nearly all of their Division III opponents this year, much like Johnston had up until their battle on Tuesday, but they had never encountered a player as vexing as Robbins. The state’s leading scorer, just a sophomore, recorded a hat trick in the opening 11 minutes to lead the Panthers past East Providence, 5-2, on senior night.

“Everybody played their position and it’s just a terrific team effort,” Johnston head coach Tim Sprouls said. “I’m so proud of them. We knew this would be a title game [feel]. No offense to any other team in the league, but they’re not the same quality that us and East Providence are.”

Robbins finished the night with four goals, bringing her total on the year to 40. She befuddled the East Providence defense for all 80 minutes, sometimes requiring the Townies to commit the entire defense to guarding her. She now has at least a hat trick in nine consecutive league games.

Once Johnston (10-0-0) took the lead for good, the defense went to work neutralizing any more East Providence attacks.

“Sam Hardman, you can give credit to her, she pumped them up and told them this is how we’re going to play,” Sprouls said. “If I start mentioning individual players, I’m going to miss somebody because they all played so terrifically.”

The back four had its struggles in the early stages, though. Grace Abrams put the Townies on the board in the opening minute, the first time Johnston trailed all season, ripping a shot past goalkeeper Kaylee Lameiro. Lameiro, a defender by trade, filled in for starter Emily Gaye after suffering an injury this week.

“We had to press our field player into the net,” Sprouls said. “She was reluctant, but she came through and everybody just played so hard. They played with emotion and smarts, just like we talked about before the game.”

Then, it was Robbins to the rescue, part one.

Two minutes later, she got to a through ball just before goalkeeper Rachel Oliveira could, blasting a shot into the net for the equalizer.

It wouldn’t take long before Robbins was needed again. The Johnston defense tried to redirect a shot out of the box following a corner kick in the fourth minute, but it deflected off a leg and went above Lameiro for an own goal.

East Providence held the advantage again, but once more it would be brief.

The same formula tricked the Townies, a through ball that was placed just ahead of Robbins and the defense. Robbins tore through the wall and let loose another booming goal.

“We had to pass and keep our composure, which we did,” Robbins said.

The containment issue persisted for East Providence two minutes later. Robbins converged with Oliveira on a pass into the box and managed to tip the ball out of the keeper’s hands. It rolled parallel to the box, where Robbins tapped it past the goal line with no defender in sight.

From that point, East Providence always had at least three bodies around Robbins. She had her chances, including a penalty kick in the second half, but she was no longer able to score at will. The increased attention helped junior captain Gabriella Scarcella notch her 20th goal of the season, a key insurance tally in the 20th minute.

East Providence (9-1-0) continued to pepper the defense with attempts to infiltrate the box, but the Johnston back line remained a bulwark. Senior captain Lindsay Frein and sophomore Grace Muller were stellar in keeping the defense balanced and the Townies off the board in the final 76 minutes. Hardman's, another pivotal senior, message had resonated.

“Lindsay Frein is our center back and how many times did she come through, stopping the ball with her body and turning the ball back up the field?” Sprouls said.

Robbins would secure her 40th goal of the year in the 61st minute, striding down the left side for a quick shot that eluded Oliveira. The three-goal lead was more than enough for a defense that had protected its goalkeeper well down the stretch.

The Panthers have one league game remaining on the year, a road contest with Hope (1-5-3) this Friday at 4 p.m. Now Johnston, which rolled out just 12 players in its win over the Townies, will just have to focus on staying healthy and gearing up for a postseason run.

“The playoffs will be competitive, I’ve seen teams improving,” Sprouls said. “It’s going to be a good, interesting playoff, but we are still the team to beat now.”