It was a very happy birthday for Gabby Pauwels.
The United Township junior scored two goals the night she turned 17 to help the Panthers roar out to a 5-2 win over rival Moline in a Western Big Six conference opener Tuesday night at the Panther Pitch.
"I was all pumped up but once you got on the field, you were just focused on the game, everything else went away," Pauwels said. "I just went along with it, I thought I saw the holes, saw the gaps, you can just tell looking at a player, where the ball's going to go off ... you just know where to be and how to get it in."
Pauwels was where she needed to be in the 26th and 44th minutes, helping UT (3-1-1, 1-0-0) race out to a 5-0 lead. Abbie Graham also scored and Ryleigh O'Brien added two goals and an assist to help the Panthers surge ahead on a chilly night, leading 4-0 at halftime.
"I think it shows other teams that we can come out stronger than they realize," O'Brien said. "We're kind of the underdog team still in the Western Big Six and we always have been but I think coming out and scoring four goals in the first half shows them that we have made progress and we're ready to come out, shoot, pass and be a team."
They may feel like the underdogs, but the Panthers showed in the conference opener they're not to be taken lightly. With most of the team back from a second-place conference finish, the Panthers showed Tuesday they intend to be right back at the top, with a first-place showdown with Alleman coming up next week.
If United Township is to contend for its first conference title since 2004, it has to ensure it doesn't let up like it did in the second half. The Maroons (2-4-0, 0-1-0) got two goals from the foot of senior Jamie Althiser to cut the lead to 5-2 in the 68th minute.
"I think the message from me is they have to perform out there and be smart," UT head coach Phil Weaver said. "We knew that Jamie Althiser can hurt you no doubt ... if you feel, job done, job over and you still have half-an-hour to play, she's the type of player that can hurt you. She got two and fortunately she didn't get any more than that."