Lil Shelton, the long-time coach of the No. 2 Severna Park field hockey team, doesn't like being ahead by one goal late in a game.
"It makes me nervous," she said. But Monday, with sophomore Liz Matta in goal, she didn't have to worry.
Under pressure, Matta, who made 11 saves — at least five of them in the last nine minutes — was exhilarated by the challenge being brought by a determined Garrison Forrest squad, and held on to lead the visiting Falcons to a 2-1 victory.
The win improves Severna Park's record to 3-0, while No. 3 Garrison Forest drops to 2-1. Adding to the excitement was the fact the game matched two long-time successful programs. One a 4A public school and the other an A-conference Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland private school. Over the years, they have been close in both season records and team rankings, often battling for No. 1.
Monday's game fit the theme, as both sides demonstrated enviable skills.
"In the closing minutes, we're really running on adrenaline," said Matta. "That's where we really have to work to push the ball out. I just play with my instincts and my only thought is 'Get it out! Get it out!' I really have to clear my mind."
Severna Park's first goal came shortly after the opening faceoff and the second one 90 seconds later. Both came off corner opportunities; one of them perfectly designed for Marissa Balleza to drive the ball into the net and the other, a Balleza tap in, came from a shot by Hannah Miller. Both were beautiful — and devastating.
"That was kind of surprising, to start like that," said Balleza. "As it turned out, it was good that we scored early and often."
Within the first three minutes of the opening half, Garrison's Grizzlies were looking up from a deep hole.
"When you're in that situation, it's very hard mentally to stay focused and say, 'We can come back from this,' " said Garrison Forest coach Tracy Davis. "But our kids knew we could. Severna Park played beautifully and in the first half they put on a clinic. They had beautiful stick work, great passing and great defense. We either pick up the pace at that point or it's going to be a sad day.
"We gave it a gallant effort and didn't pack it in."
Garrison Forrest worked hard to get junior forward Brooke Adler an open shot in front of the goalwith 7:14 to play in the first half and Adler didn't hesitate, pounding the ball past Matta. The Grizzlies' kept up the pressure through the next half and as the time on the clock dwindled they continued to close in.
But every time there was what seemed to be an open opportunity, a Severna Park defender showed up or Matta was there to kick the ball away.
On Garrison's corner opportunities, there were no mysteries. The inbounds pass seemed almost always to go to Adler, and Matta and her Falcon teammates were there to make the stops.
Even in the closing moments, when a misstep gave Garrison one last chance on a corner with the game clock reading :00, Severna Park kept cool and won.
"We're still a relatively young team," said Davis, the Garrison Forest coach. "We'll learn from this."
2 Severna Park 2, 3 Garrison Forrest 1
Goals: SP- Balleza (2). GF- Adler. Assists: SP-Doherty, Miller. Goalies: SP – Matta (11). GF – Flax (6). Halftime: 2-1.