CATONSVILLE - Few teams have handed Century's girls lacrosse team a convincing loss in the program's 11-year history.
Marriotts Ridge put together a stunner of a performance Tuesday night at UMBC Stadium, however, in beating the Knights 15-5 and winning the Class 3A-2A state championship.
Not many expected a running clock in this one, least of all a Century squad going after a seventh state crown. Yet the Mustangs pulled it off on two occasions in the second half, behind a suffocating defense and senior midfielder Zoe Stukenberg, and rolled to their second championship and second in three seasons over Century (16-3).
"I don't think Century has ever had the clock running on them before," said Knights coach Becky Groves. "So what I told the underclassmen is, 'Remember this feeling.' I feel like, for the most part, at every position, they were faster than us."
Marriotts Ridge (18-1) reeled off five straight goals to open the second half, and when Stukenberg netted the first of her three goals at the 17-minute, 6-second mark, the Mustangs led 12-2. She finished with six assists and feasted on Century's defense by either finding a teammate around the circle or creating space to shoot through a double team.
Marriotts Ridge's only loss this season came against McDonogh, the top team in the country according to U.S. Lacrosse's final top 25 poll. Century was ninth in the poll, but the Knights couldn't solve the Mustangs' defensive scheme Tuesday night.
"I feel like they're not as high up there as McDonogh," said Knights senior attacker Morgan Marrale, who had two goals. "I feel like we could have won that game if we came out like we did in McDonogh's game. But we didn't come out as strong and as fired up as usual, so we had to pay the consequence for that."
Marrale didn't have a reason as to why Century fell flat, but it came at an inopportune time for the Knights with Stukenberg leading Marriotts Ridge's charge.
And she had help - senior attacker Maggie Brooks led the Mustangs with five goals and junior midfielder Taylor Hensh added three, while junior goalie Rachel Ortell sparkled with 10 saves.
Century tallied the final two goals of the game thanks to Marrale and senior attacker Alexa McGovern, but the Marriotts Ridge celebration had long begun. And Stukenberg, who is headed to Maryland next year, drew plenty of praise from Groves.
"She does it all," said Groves, who joked she'll be glad to see the senior graduate. "To be honest, I don't think there's a way to stop her."
Marrale cut Marriotts Ridge's lead to 4-2 with a nifty spin move and score in front of the circle at the 6:39 mark of the first half, only to watch the Mustangs respond by winning three straight draws and netting three more goals.
Marriotts Ridge coach Natalie Gaieski, like Groves a Liberty High School graduate, felt good about her team's chances to win with a 7-2 halftime lead.
But to be on the positive end of a running clock later in the game?
"I never imagined that in a million years," Gaieski said. "This team never gets overconfident ... and coming in here, they didn't expect this either. It was unbelievable."
Some of the Mustangs broke into laughter when they heard Stukenberg's stat line, and the senior couldn't hide her emotions about the big game.
"Every single person on our team performed at their best," Stukenberg said. "It ended on the best possible note."
That wasn't the case for Century, particularly its nine seniors.
Haley Bordner is one of them, and the team's leading scorer was held without a point in front of an imposing Marriotts Ridge defense. Bordner said a lackluster offensive showing allowed the Mustangs' defense to take control.
"We just looked so scared," she said. "From the beginning, we weren't finishing shots. I think it was mostly in our heads ... mentally we weren't there."
Bordner and Marrale were visibly upset about the defeat, and while Groves wanted her returning players to soak up the experience for next year, she implored her seniors to let it go and appreciate what they've accomplished as a part of the program.
"Four years, they've won two state titles and they've been state [finalists] the other two years," Groves said. "They've accomplished so much, and I said, 'Do not let this game haunt you. Don't dwell on it. Move on. We've had a great four years here at Century, and you've brought us two state titles. ... They've done so much for us."
Goals: MR-Maggie Brooks 5, Zoe Stukenberg 3, Taylor Hensh 3, Jenna Kerr, Alexis Zadjura, Marissa Davey, Lexi Souder; C-Morgan Marrale 2, Madi Hall, Alexa McGovern, Hannah Warther.
Assists: MR-Stukenberg 6, Kerr; C-Kailey Wolfe.
Saves: MR-10 (Rachel Ortell); C-3 (Allison Remenapp).
Halftime: MR, 7-2.