All season, the Fallston girls lacrosse team has leaned on its strong defense to bring home wins.
In Saturday's Class 2A-1A state semifinal against Queen Anne's, the collective play in back led the Cougars to a return trip to the Class 2A-1A state title.
The Cougars got good offensive production to jump ahead in the first half, and its defense proved a constant in claiming a 7-5 win over the Lions at Northeast High.
Fallston (15-3) advances to next week's state championship game for a second straight year — either Tuesday or Wednesday at Stevenson University — and will take on Century, which beat Liberty 15-8 on Saturday.
The Cougars, who fell to Manchester Valley, 22-3, in last year's title game, are seeking the program's third state crown and first since 2012.
On Saturday, senior Anna Dennison finished with two goals and one assist and Zoe Hurlburt and Emily Solak added two goals each to spark the attack. Fallston coach Michael McTeague said the defense has been the team's trademark all season and he got strong games from Alynne Abney and Lea Roberts to go with a six-save effort from Lexi Roberts to hold off the Lions.
"The difference was the defense — it was a great effort," McTeague said. "[Queen Anne's] came in winning a lot of draws, they got a lot of possession, but we really played great defense for the amount of possessions they had. Our defense is really good — it's pretty much the mainstay. They're just very solid, play clean, good stick handling, so they're the difference."
Both teams had an equal share of possessions in the first half but the Cougars were more productive with their chances in claiming a 5-2 lead at the break.
After Queen Anne's opened the scoring on a free position goal from McKenna Blick with 22:20, the Cougars answered with five straight goals to build a 5-1 advantage.
As has been the case for much of the season, Hurlburt got the Cougars going on offense. After two saves from Queen Anne's goalie Emily Karbaum, she finished an assisted goal to even the score at 1 with 19:40 to play and put the Cougars ahead less than a minute later on a goal assisted by Sam DeCarlo. Dennison scored two goals and added an assist to make it 5-1 before the Lions got one back from Emma Feaga to make it 5-2 with 2:41 left.
After Blick scored to get the Lions (15-3) within two at 5-3 with 20:28 to play, the Cougars answered with goals from Solak and Sarah Durdick to go up 7-3 with 12:58 left.
The Lions pushed, but the Cougars defense wasn't fazed. After Feaga scored to make it 7-4 with 9:22 to play, Fallston midfielder Isabelle Dallam had a big takeaway to thwart a Lions possession; Lexi Roberts made two saves with under three minutes to play before Queen Anne's Mallory Pletzer hit the post with another shot. After Blick, who finished with three goals, cut the lead to 7-5 with 1:55 to play, Lexi Roberts made one last save with 1:28 to play and the Cougars gained possession to run out most of the remaining time.
"We just wanted to work together," Abney said. "We had to come out and play hard because we knew they would come out strong. We just had to communicate really well, and we worked together very well, talking with our slides and getting all the ground balls and just making sure we played really smart."
Class 2A-1A state semifinal (at Northeast)
Fallston 7, Queen Anne's 5
Goals: QA – Blick 3, Feaga 2;
F – Hurlburt 2, Dennison 2, Solak 2, Dudick
F – DeCarlo, Emge, Dennison
Saves: QA – Karbaum 9; F – Lex. Roberts 6.
Half: F, 5-2