In the hours leading to Monday's Class 3A state semifinal, C. Milton Wright coach Janice Rhodes said she sensed an uneasiness about her top-ranked field hockey team.
"We had a lot of nerves going on … on the bus ride up [and] throughout the day," Rhodes said.
By early in the second half, both those nerves and the chances of a meltdown against Calvert County's Huntingtown had vanished. Jenny Eckert and Haley Matthai scored back-to-back goals in a span of 2 minutes, 11 seconds , helping the Mustangs earn their first trip to the state finals with a 3-0 win at Franklin High School.
"That [nervousness] showed in the beginning of the game," Rhodes said. "I told them to get their act together and do what they do best, which is play hockey."
Now, C. Milton Wright (17-1) will get to play more, advancing to the Class 3A final, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Washington College in Chestertown. There, it will face No. 7 Mount Hebron, a 4-1 winner over Urbana in the other semifinal.
The Mustangs, who have allowed just four goals all season and have won nine straight, including six in a row by shutout.
Against the Hurricanes (12-2-1), however, offensive production was their biggest obstacle.
Despite five penalty corners and nine shots on goal in the first half, the Mustangs simply couldn't get the ball past junior goalie Charleen Fischer (18 saves), who came up with stop after stop.
"We kept trying to go through her, and I think she was a goalie that deserved our respect," Rhodes said. "We needed to go around her, and that's what we ended up doing in the second half."
Finally, the Mustangs broke through, when Eckert scored off a feed from Olivia Beachley 3:38 into the second half. Matthai followed unassisted just over 2 minutes later.
"I was thinking in my head, `We've got to get it in,'" Eckert said. "It was just a huge relief."
In the first semifinal, senior Lauren Schaaf scored three goals in the first 13:13, as Mount Hebron (17-1) earned its second trip to the finals in three years.
The Vikings have won 10 straight since losing their only game of the year to Glenelg, outscoring opponents 53-7 during that stretch.
Schaaf, who had entered the night with just three goals all season, gave the Vikings the lead just 48 seconds into the game, scoring off a feed from midfielder Monica Linn.
Then, with the game tied minutes later, she put them back on top off a penalty corner. She then completed her scoring with 16:47 left in the half, off the first of two assists from senior Tianna Wallpher.
"I was lucky. I was just always there when the ball came," Schaaf said. "They had great hits in."
Class 3A state semifinal
Mount Hebron 4, Urbana 1
Goals: MH-Schaaf 3, Anderson; U-Mellon. Assists: MH-Wallpher 2, M. Linn. Saves: MH-Kelehan 4; U-Godwin 3. Half: Mount Hebron, 3-1.
C. Milton Wright 3, Huntingtown 0
Goals: CMW-Eckert, Matthai, Barry. Assists: CMW-Beachley, Sa. Rhodes. Saves: CMW: Sy. Rhodes 0; H-Fischer 18. Half: Tied, 0-0.