After Winters Mill's girls lacrosse team started the season 2-4, coach Courtney Vaughn told her players that if the seniors led and the youngsters followed they would "do good things down the road."
The road for the Falcons' five leaders ended Tuesday with a third state championship in four years after an 8-7 victory over Easton in the Class 2A-1A final at UMBC Stadium.
The seniors — twin midfielders Shelby and Sydney Trentzsch and defenders Maddie Bodden, Emily Horn and Delaney Norris — led their younger teammates to a big finish, winning 13 of their last 14 games with the only loss a 12-10 setback to No. 2 Century on April 30.
"I told them after that game, the only team that can beat you is yourselves," Vaughn said.
The Falcons (15-5) did not beat themselves Tuesday, and that was crucial in a tight game with Easton (16-3), which had hoped to become the first girls lacrosse state champion from the Eastern Shore.
The veterans remember what it felt like to leave UMBC as the state runner-up last season after falling to Fallston.
"We kept saying, 'Leave it all on the field,'" Shelby Trentzsch said, "because we know how it felt and there was no worse feeling. We had to play 100 percent and not be afraid."
While Shelby and Sydney Trentzsch each scored a goal, youngsters led the way on offense with freshman Coeli Love and sophomore Erin McGuire scoring three each.
In a game that was tied five times, McGuire scored the game winner, faking Warriors goalie Kali Morgan and flipping the ball past her stick side for an 8-7 lead with 2:38 remaining.
"I just kind of took it," McGuire said. "I didn't care what happened. I just knew I was going to give it 100 percent and shoot as hard as I could."
McGuire also scored the first goal of the game, racing in off the draw in just 13 seconds, but the Warriors slowed the Falcons down for much of the game with their deliberate offense. Paige Gamble, the Warriors' all-time leading scorer, scored all three of her goals in the first half as Easton came back three times.
Paige Blanche's free-position goal gave the Warriors their only lead, 5-4, less than two minutes into the second half, but Winters Mill answered with three straight goals, two from Love and an extra-man goal from McGuire.
The Falcons also revved up their defense in the second half, playing more aggressively and not letting the Warriors set up with Gamble behind the goal.
"We decided we weren't going to let them feed," Vaughn said. "We were going to send Sydney or whoever else was in the stack to double the ball, just because I thought they couldn't handle our pressure and we'd get some turnovers that way. ... They had a good game plan. We score in transition and they slowed us down. We had to make sure we were patient but then we jumped them on D."
Gamble found one opening in the second half, feeding Blanche to tie at 7 with 3:17 remaining after Abbey Harrison's free-position goal.
But Easton coach Maureen Wegener-Lempke said her team often struggled to get the ball out of its defensive end in the second half.
"We got a lot of balls and then we couldn't get them out past the restraining line," she said. "They regained possession from us. I don't have the numbers for that, but those turned into goals for them, and that's what really cost us the game. They did re-defend, and we had some bad throws."
Both teams were wilting in the humid 82-degree heat that was much hotter on the turf, but the Falcons won the next two draws, and after McGuire's game winner, they managed to keep possession for the final 2:38.
Goals: E—Gamble 3, Harrison 2, Blanche 2; WM—Love 3, McGuire 3, Sy.Trentzsch, Sh.Trentzsch. Assists: E—Gamble 2, Salins; WM—McGuire. Saves: E—Morgan 7; WM—Lesniak 3. Half: 4-4.