Having put Long Reach on the ropes early in its 2A state semifinal game, two-time defending state champion Middletown didn’t hesitate in issuing the knockout blow.
Building on the team’s first goal just over five minutes into Saturday’s game at Bel Air High School, Middletown scored twice more over the next 15 minutes and then held on the rest of the way for a 3-1 victory.
“We talked the last couple days that we had to get to goal quickly and get there early and often,” Middletown coach Heather Kline said. “They’ve been on a great roll, beating some really good teams, so it was really important to get in on top right away and keep the pressure on.”
Long Reach, which was making its first-ever appearance in the state final four, simply never got a chance to settle in.
“This is kind of a new experience for us, playing in this game and seeing all the fans here, I think we were still taking it all in those first few minutes,” said Long Reach junior Heather Glasser, who accounted for her team’s only goal. “Middletown has been here before and I think that played to their advantage.”
Mary-Kate Afzali kicked the scoring off for Middletown with 34:48 left in the opening half, settling herself at the top of the box and firing a shot into the net off the hands of Long Reach goalie Emily Bradford (8 saves). Roughly 14 minutes later, the Knights’ got another goal practically the exact same way.
This time, it was Alizah Johns-Boehme who scored from the top of the box off Bradford’s hands.
“We sort of kept firing there for awhile, trying to put the ball on goal any way we could,” Kline said. “We were aggressive and you have to be against a team like that.”
Middletown’s third goal came less than a minute after the second one, with Mary Pritts slotting the ball inside the left post. The three goals were the most the Lightning have surrendered in a game since early October.
But, like they have all year, Long Reach kept fighting. Between the end of the first half and opening 20 minutes of the second, the Lightning forced Middletown goalie Maria Tartaglia (5 saves) to make three sprawling stops.
Then finally, after what was a handful of near misses, Long Reach got itself on the board with 11:39 left in regulation.
Ana Rebaza got free on the left wing and played the ball across to the streaking Glasser, who finished in front. It was her third goal in the last three games.
“We knew that if we were going to score, we had to start winning the balls in the midfield and I thought we did a great job of that in the second half,” Glasser said. “On that goal we did score, Ana did a great job of dribbling past a couple defenders and crossing it.”
Long Reach kept pushing forward over the final minutes, but was unable to get any closer the rest of the way. Still, the Lightning made a statement with their play down the stretch.
“There are no moral victories, but I’m still extremely proud of the girls,” Long Reach coach Erik Sandersen said. “It was 3-0, but nobody was hanging their heads. It was still the state semifinal game and they played like it until the last whistle.
“We can walk out of here with our heads up, knowing that we played as hard as we could.”