The score was tied with a little more than 11 minutes to go in Monday night's 3A semifinal between No. 6 Westminster and No. 12 North Harford when Maddy Walsh, on the attack, carried the ball into the circle, stumbled and fell.

"It was like everyone stopped playing, waiting for a whistle," said Westminster's Meghan Macera. "The ball was there and I just knocked it into the net."

That play made all the difference at Franklin High. The goal stood, and No. 6 Westminster won, 2-1, to return to the state finals.

Last year the Owls finished as the No. 1 team in The Baltimore Sun's poll with a perfect record and the 4A championship. This year, they were moved into 3A competition, lost many seniors from last year's team, lost three games during the regular season, and heard a lot from second-guessers.

But that's all behind them now as they advance to the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association state finals at Washington College Saturday. The Owls will play a 1:30 p.m. game against Mount Hebron (12-5). The No. 15 Vikings advanced to the final with a 1-0 overtime victory against Huntingtown (11-4).

Viking Tianna Wallpher, the team's leading goal scorer with 17, completed a give-and-go from teammate Samantha Brookhart with 7:34 left to end the sudden victory period.

"Sam and I practice that play all the time," said Wallpher, a sophomore. "We've been dreaming that play would work and win us a game. What a rush. But it was the whole team effort that made the difference. They deserve as much credit as I do for putting the ball in the net."

While Westminster will be looking to repeat Saturday, Mount Hebron will be searching for its first state title.

"In Howard County, Centennial won a state title in the 1990s and Glenelg and River Hill won last year," said Mount Hebron coach Jeannette Ireland. "And that's it. We're hoping to add to Howard County's numbers."

North Harford (11-6), last season's 3A state runner up, came on strong at the end of the season to make a bid for a return finals appearance. Monday night the Hawks played well defensively against Westminster, a team they had never seen.

"Our defense and midfield played a heck of a game," said North Harford coach Katie Cox. "We just had a little trouble getting the ball up on the attack. But we have a really young team and I'm very pleased with the season we've had. We've come a long way with a brand new defense and goalie."

When the Owls' Walsh scored Westminster's first goal a little over three minutes into the second half, North Harford responded with the tying goal from Kara Parks at the 18 minute mark. From there, the game was evenly played until Walsh fell and Macera, a senior, scored.

"We teach our players to play until the whistle blows," said Westminster coach Mary Rivera. "That's what Meghan did. They gave her an open shot and she made it."

sandra.mckee@baltsun.com

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