For a Marriotts Ridge girls lacrosse team that has outscored most opponents by huge margins, defense made all the difference in Wednesday's Class 3A-2A South regional championship.
Senior defender Alex McKay knew it wouldn't be long before her No. 6 Mustangs outlasted archrival Mount Hebron, 11-8, for their third regional title in four years.
"It was important for us to play together and play as a team," McKay said. "This is one of the best games I think our defense has played. We were compact, we slid early, we had each other's backs and it just felt good. We felt like we were clicking."
The host Mustangs (16-1) lost to No. 7 Mount Hebron (14-3) in last year's regional final, but this spring, the two were so evenly matched that they needed four overtimes to decide their Howard County regular-season game, 13-12 in Marriotts Ridge's favor.
This time, Mustangs junior goalie Rachel Ortell stopped Mount Hebron's first two shots and even though the Vikings would take a 3-1 lead, the defense of Ortell (seven saves), McKay, Alexis Zadjura, Brooke Sharbaugh, Katie Berdy and midfielders Taylor Hensh and Zoe Stukenberg set the tone.
"This is the kind of game I like better [than the first meeting] — maybe it's because I'm a defender," said McKay, who is headed to Maryland in the fall. "I think both teams really wanted it and the heart that was there — not that it wasn't there before, but it was just so amplified because this is it and we all know this is it and so it became a little bit more competitive."
Fouls also played a huge role in the game with the Vikings picking up five cards while Marriotts Ridge didn't receive any.
After Marriotts Ridge rallied to tie the game at 3-3 with 11:50 to go in the first half, the Vikings got their first card and had to play man-down for two minutes. The Mustangs seized the opportunity as Stukenberg scored and then fed Jenna Kerr for two extra-man goals — the middle two scores in a 6-0 run.
The Mustangs took their biggest lead of the game, 10-5, when Zadjura fed Marissa Davey while the Vikings had to play down two players.
Less than two minutes later, the Vikings got their fourth card, forcing them to remain a player down for the final 10:55 of the game. Nonetheless, they rallied.
Just before the costly card, Meghan Doherty cut the lead to 10-6 with a free-position goal. The Vikings kept attacking and drawing fouls. Jen Giles and Tianna Wallpher also scored free-position goals to pull within 10-8 with 7:42 to go.
The Mustangs, however, had the better of possession most of the rest of the way and, with Mount Hebron a man down, they always had an open player which helped them run out most of the clock.
The Vikings, who had hoped to add to their record 15 state titles, saw the careers of 11 seniors come to an end.
"We never really got our rhythm and you can't do that against a team like Marriotts Ridge," Vikings coach Trish Derwart said. "They'll certainly capitalize on those vulnerabilities and they played really soundly. We just had little hiccups in the road and we had difficulty recovering from them. Certainly when we hit our first yellow card and by the time we hit our fourth, that changes the momentum of the game"
Marriotts Ridge, which won its only state championship in 2010, advances to play Queen Anne's on Friday or Saturday at Annapolis High School. Queen Anne's defeated Mount Hebron in the state semifinals last season.
Kerr finished with three goals and two assists for the Mustangs while Hensh had three goals and an assist and Davey scored three goals. Jamie Schwartz led the Vikings with three goals and Giles had two goals and an assist. Vikings senior goalie Madison Fisher had seven saves.
Goals: MH—Schwartz 3, Giles 2, Stevens, Doherty, Wallpher; MR—Hensh 3, Kerr 3, Davey 3, Z.Stukenberg, A.Zadjura. Assists: MH—Kerr 2, Z.Stukenberg 2, Hensh, Davey, A.Zadjura; MH—Giles. Saves: MH—Fisher 7; MR—Ortell 7. Half: MR, 5-3.