The No. 7 Fallston girls soccer team made it clear throughout Saturday's Class 2A state championship game that it wouldn't back down against two-time defending champion Middletown.
In an evenly-played game dominated by defense, it took a perfectly placed shot coming with 23 seconds left before the Knights from Frederick County had the needed goal to successfully defend their championship.
Junior midfielder Mary Pritts solved the defensive puzzle, taking a feed from Mary-Kate Afzali and firing a shot from 22 yards that found the lower left corner. The goal gave Middletown (16-2) its third straight championship and seventh overall.
Fallston fell short in its bid to bring home the program's fourth crown, finishing the season with a 15-3-2 record.
After graduating a handful of seniors from last year's team and returning only five this fall, Cougars coach Mark Hannahs was proud to see his team playing on the season's final night.
"We went 15-3-2 and I have nothing but praise for these girls. Middletown was defending champs and you got to beat them to get them out of there. We gave it everything we had, [Pritts] put a nice shot in and that's the ballgame. Soccer is a cruel sport and somebody has to win, and I'm very proud of what they accomplished this year."
Scoring chances were limited throughout the 80 minutes of regulation.
In the second half, the first shot on goal didn't come until there was 8:45 left when Middletown's Gabrielle Riggs sent a shot from 18 yards that was easily handled by Fallston goalkeeper Kayla Reilly.
The Knights thought they had the deciding goal with 6:10 to play when Riggs headed home a cross sent in by Alizah Johns-Boehme, but Boehme delivered the ball a half step out of bounds which the referee was quick to call. The Knights didn't have to wait much longer for the needed goals, however, with Pritts scoring her 10th goal of the season.
The Cougars didn't show any nervousness early, playing on even terms with the Knights in a scoreless first half.
The first 30 minutes were quiet, with both teams enjoying some build up to the offensive third but defenses taking over from there. With 5:40 to play until halftime, the Knights had the ball inside the penalty area with Reilly down and off her line, but they couldn't get anything on goal before the Cougars cleared the ball from danger.
In the final minute, Fallston had its best chance when Sierrah Taylor, who finished the season with a team-high 13 goals, put a shot on goal that deflected behind Middletown goalie Maria Tartaglia before being cleared by a Knights defender.
"At the beginning of the season, I didn't think we would get this far just because of the fact we lost so many seniors and we only have five seniors this year," Taylor said. "So I really didn't think we were going to do this well. But throughout the season, we kind of progressed and got a lot better and really became a family."
Middletown 1, 7 Fallston 0
Goals: M -- Pritts
Assists: M -- Afzali
Saves: F – Reilly ; M -- Tartaglia