The Fallston Cougars reached Saturday night's Maryland Class 2A girls soccer state title game with a near miracle goal.
At UMBC Saturday night, the Cougars watched another near miracle unfold, but it happened for the opponent, Middletown.
For nearly 80 minutes, both teams battled the other scoreless, but with just :23 to play, Middletown struck with a goal to defeat the Cougars, 1-0, successfully defending the title the Knights have owned now for three years with wins also in 2010 and 2011.
Middletown's Mary-Kate Afzali fed the ball to Mary Pritts, who let a low shot go from the left side from 22 yards out. The ball found its way into the back right corner of the Cougars goal.
"I have nothing but praise for this group right here and the girls in the locker room," Cougars Head Coach Mark Hannahs said. "Middletown is the defending champ, you gotta beat 'em to get 'em out of there. We gave it everything we had. The girl put a nice shot in...that's the ballgame. Soccer is a crude sport, but somebody's got to win. I'm very proud of what they accomplished this year."
Up until the goal was scored, neither team could solve the opponent's defense, but neither had a real great opportunity either.
Both had what respective fans thought were goals, but both were waved off by the officials.
The Cougars (15-3-2) chance came in the first half off of a throw-in. The ball was played to senior Sam Gasior, who was called for a handball while bringing the ball down to the ground.
Middletown's came late in the second half when Akizah Johns-Boehme crossed a ball and Gabrielle Riggs headed it in. The play was halted as Johns-Boehme was ruled to have played the ball beyond the goal line.
The Cougars had a couple of decent scoring looks in the first half, with the first coming with just under 30 minutes left.
Junior forward Sierrah Taylor played a ball into the box with Brooke Nigrin racing after it. Middletown goalie Maria Tartaglia (three saves) made a sliding save away from her line as Nigrin reached the ball.
A short time later, Fallston's Taylor fired a low shot that was deflected by Tartaglia, but the ball actually wound up behind the goalie, where a Middletown defender cleared the ball away.
In the second half the Cougars had even fewer true scoring chances, with the best coming with 29 minutes to play. Junior Beth Walton found herself alone, some 20 yards out, but her shot sailed harmlessly high over the goal.
"They were faster than we expected," senior defender Marissa Walker said. "We tried to move the ball around, but we were playing a little too much kick and run." Walker, who also talked about the Cougars season as a whole, said, "I think we played well."
In addition to 2010-2012, the Knights also won state titles in 1990, 1999, 2000 and 2004.
The Cougars were making their third state final appearance over the past five years, having won the 2A title in 2009. Fallston also won state titles in 1994 and 1996 and was a finalist in 1997.
The loss finished a solid season for the Cougars, who have just five seniors.
"I'm not going to lie, at the beginning of the season I did not think we would get this far," Taylor said. "The fact that we lost so many seniors and we only have five seniors this year, so I didn't really think we could do this well."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun