By Chris Kaftan
SOFIA, Bulgaria – The United States started its second game of Team Handball pool play strong against defending gold medalist Croatia before faltering in the second half for a 44-24 loss Monday at the National Sports Academy.
A day after its loss to Germany, the U.S. made necessary adjustments and, with 60 minutes of international competition now under their belts, the Americans stepped onto the court to face a tough squad of Croatians.
Croatia opened up a 7-2 lead before Stefan Bergan took a penalty shot to give the Americans three goals. Croatia responded by scoring two quick goals, and Bergan took another penalty shot to make it 9-4, Croatia.
After Daniel Fava and Kevin Berrigan received yellow cards for aggressive play, Croatia upped the score to 14-4 before Fava and Bergan scored quick goals to narrow it, 14-6.
Five plays later, Bergan scored on a fast break , and Berrigan added a shot on a lob assist from Joseph Kolcun to make it 15-8.
Jason Coleman cut the Croatia lead to six with a bomb into the back of the goal. The Croatians, clearly frustrated after three quick American goals, called a timeout to regroup.
After the timeout, Sean Moore made a quick drive from the wing position up to the center line and fired a shot to get the U.S.’s fourth straight goal, but Croatia responded with two goals before halftime, leaving the Americans seven points behind.
“We followed our game plan in the first half,” head coach Chris Hamilton said. “Our plan was to make adjustments in defense and keep the ball away from No. 4 on the Croatia team, and it worked.
“We got him frustrated.”
However, No. 4’s frustration was short-lived as Croatia came out of halftime strong, firing on all cylinders and reeling off seven unanswered points to bring up the score to 25-13.
Moore broke the U.S. dry spell with a bounce shot, but Croatia continued to make plays and penetrate the U.S. defense, adding 11 more points in a span of six minutes.
Joshua Weinstock came in as a substitute and promptly broke through the Croatian defense and fired a shot to make it 36-17.
Sensing the Americans were tiring, Croatia made adjustments to their players on the floor and continued to attack, finishing the match with eight more in the net.
“We had a bad start to the second half,” Hamilton said. “There were a few miscues, and we gave away too many points. We didn’t take care of the ball defensively and that allowed Croatia to score on us.”
Despite the second loss, goalkeeper Adam Jarashow was optimistic.
“We know we can compete with the best in the world for 30 minutes,” he said.
“We were too aggressive after halftime, and like yesterday [against Germany], penalties killed us,” Jarashow said.
“We’ll get them next time.”
The U.S. plays Hungary at 11:30 a.m. (4:30 ET) Tuesday in its final match of pool play.