St. Paul's coach Brooke Kuhl-McClelland on Saturday found a way to keep high-powered C. Milton Wright from running wild on offense.
Simply never let the No. 2 Mustangs start running to begin with.
Using a ball-control offense featuring frequent one-on-ones and very few high-risk passes, No. 7 St. Paul's took control by holding the visiting Harford County team to just one goal in a mid-game span of more than 15 minutes, getting a game-high five goals from senior Shelby Wells in a 10-9 win.
"We wanted to take away their transition. We wanted to spread them out and take good shots on goal," Kuhl-McClelland said. "We saw them in the preseason against McDonogh, so we were a little bit attune to what they were able to do. That gave us a little more confidence to be able to take over."
St. Paul's (9-3) now has won three straight and seven of its past eight. The Gators also beat No. 4 Maryvale and No. 5 Bryn Mawr by a goal each earlier this season.
C. Milton Wright (8-1), meanwhile, lost for the first time since last year's Class 3A-2A state semifinals, where they were edged by eventual state champion Century. The Mustangs avenged that loss with a 11-7 win over the Knights on March 23.
They appeared to have control of this one early, taking a 2-0 lead on goals in the first 5:07 by junior Maggie Gallagher (team-high four goals) and sophomore Haley Matthai.
As the first half continued, however, the Gators began to assert control, winning draws, forcing turnovers and converting their shots. Trailing, 3-1, they scored five of the next six goals — including three from Wells — to take a 6-4 lead early in the second half.
Facing a team that had scored 34 total goals in its past two games, the key for St. Paul's was to stay conservative on offense and avoid turnovers that could lead to fast-break opportunities.
"We knew they were a fast team and would transition fast, so we wanted to settle it and just take one-on-ones," Wells said.
Still, C. Milton Wright never trailed by more than two, and had a chance to force overtime after Gallagher's goal with just over two minutes left cut the lead to 10-9.
With 52 seconds to play, C. Milton Wright defender Holly McKee forced a turnover behind her own goal, but the Mustangs were unable to score as shots by Brooke Williams and Gallagher each sailed high in the final 20 seconds.
Senior Amanda Sutor also had a pair of goals for the Gators, who converted on 10 of 17 shots.
Mustangs coach Brent Ritz said falling behind threw a wrench into his team's game plan.
"We really wanted to play with a lead against this team. We didn't want to have to trail," Ritz said. "We knew they had some good ball handlers and it was going to be tough to get the ball back if we needed to."
7 St. Paul's 10, 2 C. Milton Wright 9
Goals: CMW-Gallagher 4, Moynihan 2, Matthai, Haggerty, Alexander; SP-Wells 5, Sutor 2, Stavraki, Braig, McDonnell. Assists: CMW-Moynihan 2; SP-Sutor. Saves: CMW-Strouse 5; SP-Lucas 6. Half: St. Paul's, 5-4.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun