Atholton field hockey survives Annapolis to claim regional title

Kelly McQuilkin already knew what Annapolis was going to do on its penalty corner opportunity before it happened.

Ahead by a goal with no time left on the clock, Atholton needed to make a stand to avoid overtime.

"My heart was racing like no other," McQuilkin said. "We studied their team and had a lot of insight on their corners. I knew exactly where it was going. I had to get it out."

McQuilkin quickly raced out of goal, intercepted a pass attempt and cleared the ball to clinch the Raiders’ 2-1 victory over the visiting Panthers in the Class 3A East Region championship on Thursday night.

"I knew where it was going so I hopped it, and got the ball out (of the circle)," McQuilkin said. "It was the best feeling ever. Playing for the right to go to states is a once in a lifetime opportunity."

Annapolis (10-4) had nine corners in the second half, but was unable to score on any of those chances.

As time expired, the Panthers were awarded another corner. Since it could affect the outcome of the game, they were allowed to play it out despite all zeros being displayed on the scoreboard.

"We went to their game (against Mt. Hebron) and we had film on them," Atholton coach Martie Dyer said. "We knew what they were going to do and we were prepared."

Annapolis successfully inserted the ball but Atholton was called for foul, giving the Panthers a second shot to score and force overtime.

Senior captain Sheila O'Malley picked up her second yellow card with 1:03 remaining and could only watch from the bench as the Raiders were under fire.

“I’m usually in on corner defense, so I was sweating bullets,” O’Malley said. “We had complete faith in our goalie (Emily Clinch). All we had to do was get it out of the circle and that’s exactly what they did.”

McQuilkin stepped into the passing lane and pushed the ball out of the circle. Her teammates immediately stormed the field in celebration of Atholton's first regional title since 2008.

The Raiders (13-2) advance to play the 3A South region's champion on Wednesday at Broadneck High School in Annapolis.

Junior forward Rachel Day found the back of the cage after she followed a rebounded shot with just under 14 minutes left in the first half. McQuilkin sent a hard shot on goal that was deflected into the air by Panthers goalier Summer Batten.

The ball caromed over Batten's head and Day was on the spot to give Atholton an early lead.

“That first goal was definitely important, but we learned throughout the season that we can not just rest on that,” Day said. “We wanted a three-point cushion – we couldn’t get that – but we just had to keep pushing.”

With 6:40 remaining in the half, Jen Bleakney added another goal after she sent a laser shot high into the corner of the cage.

“Annapolis came out strong and I called a timeout. We weren’t used to a team that was that fast and aggressive,” Dyer said. “Then we settled down, regrouped and got those goals in.”

The Panthers weren't ready to head home just yet and dominated possession in the second half. Lindsey Missel corralled a loose ball in front of the goal and put it away just 37 seconds into the half.

“We knew they were going to come out fired up in the second half, and we didn’t come out as fired up as we should have,” O’Malley said. “After that, we picked it up because we knew they were into it as much as we were. We starting marking and talking better on defense after that.”

From that point on, Clinch (three saves) and the Raiders defense turned away nine corners to make their lead stand up.

“We just didn’t capitalize on those corners,” Annapolis coach Angela Carpita said. “We definitely had our opportunities that we didn’t finish on. That’s why the girls are upset … Atholton’s defense was cutting us off. They were a very strong team.”

Class 3A East Region championship

Atholton 2, Annapolis 1

Goals: AN - Missel; AT - Day, Bleakney.

Assists: AT - Day.

Saves: AN - Batten 9; AT - Clinch 3.

Corners: AN - 10; AT - 7.

Shots: AN - 6; AT - 17.

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