Carroll has five lacrosse teams competing in the state tournament, but the county has a "final four" of its own taking place Friday night.
Half of the Class 2A-1A boys and girls state semifinals are set for Northeast High School, and the games are all-Carroll showdowns. On the boys side, Liberty takes on South Carroll at 8 p.m. Century and Liberty meet in the girls contest at 6.
Westminster's boys are in a 4A-3A semifinal Saturday at 4 p.m. at Gaithersburg High against Churchill.
Liberty's move to the 2A-1A South Region this spring made such a matchup possible, since the South champ plays the West winner in the semifinals. The Knights won their program's 12th regional crown. The Lions, however, ended a long drought by capturing their first since 2000.
"Everyone's really excited. We looked at it as, the girls were part of Liberty history," said Taylor Cassatt, the Lions' first-year coach.
Liberty (9-8) beat Edmondson, Pikesville, and Western Tech by a combined 66-7 to claim the South title. In the process, senior midfielder Grace Griffin became the 13th player in Carroll history to surpass 200 career goals. Griffin had eight goals in the regional final and her career total stands at 202.
The Lions will likely need plenty of scoring to tackle Century (15-3), which has reached the finals in all 11 state tourney appearances prior to this one. The Knights feature senior attacker Michaela Connolly, who has 150 points this spring (65 goals, 85 assists).
Connolly had five goals and nine assists in Century's 20-7 win over Liberty on March 29, which helped the Knights go on to share the county title with Manchester Valley and Westminster.
But coach Becky Groves has deployed two freshmen, Grace Bruce and Christina Haspert, to provide offense with all-county midfielder Kylie Davis, a senior, out this year because of a knee injury. Bruce, a midfielder, has 83 points (69, 14) and Haspert, an attacker, has 71 points (52, 19).
Groves fields eight freshmen and three sophomores, and all of them vie for solid playing time. The underclassmen have meshed well with the veterans, Groves said, leading them to another state tournament trip.
"We've really come together," Groves said. "This year is has been a real true team effort."
Last season, Liberty's boys (8-10) were undefeated before losing to Fallston in the 2A-1A state final. Earlier this spring, the Lions lost all-county attackman Mark Conway (30 goals, 29 assists) to injury. Liberty dropped seven in a row from April 19 to May 4 and saw its scoring production fall with the skid. The Lions collected 39 goals in those games, 20 of which came in the first two.
Then came the regional playoffs, and a 72-3 goal differential against Randallstown, Northwestern, Pikesville, and Dunbar.
"The biggest thing that we recognized was, with a new group it was going to take time to jell," said coach Mike Flemming, whose Lions are led by junior attackman Jake Griffin (41 goals, 22 assists). "There was a different sense of purpose in the playoffs. ... From where we were, it's a totally different outlook with everything."
They're facing a South Carroll squad that struggled early on. In late March, the Cavaliers (12-5) lost to Linganore and Westminster, now both regional champs, by a combined 37-7, and were 2-3 after falling to Marriotts Ridge. SC coach Brad Widner said getting back to the state final four for the first time in five years came down to some minor changes along with a collective mindset.
The Cavs defeated Liberty 19-10 on April 21, and have won eight of their last nine games.
"We tried doing some [things] offensively to better fit our personnel," said Widner, whose team is led by seniors Kyle Worsley (60 goals) and Kyle Dizon (45 assists). "We were all like, 'Hey, it's a marathon. It's zero degrees outside and everything is covered in ice."
Friday's Games, Northeast (AA) HS
Girls: Liberty vs Century, 6
Boys: Liberty vs. South Carroll, 8
Saturday's Game, Gaithersburg HS
Boys: Churchill vs. Westminster, 4