Winters Mill committed a turnover near midfield with an empty goal, and Liberty was more than willing to deposit the ball into the net for an easy score.
The Lions led by two with about 7 minutes to go in Wednesday’s Class 2A West Section 1 quarterfinal, and momentum seemed to be on their side. The Falcons weren’t done just yet, however.
“We just had to keep out heads up and play as a team,” said senior attackman Reid Stewart. “We came out well together.”
Stewart was talking about the final minutes of the game, when Winters Mill overcame the deficit and rallied to win 13-11.
The Falcons (8-7) scored five of the game’s final six goals, and turned a 10-8 deficit into a 12-10 lead with 3:20 to play. Liberty pulled within one with 70 seconds remaining, but WM goalie Jax Francisco preserved the lead and Stewart converted an insurance marker with 6 seconds left.
Senior midfielder Kaden Ross had five goals and Stewart scored four to lead Winters Mill, while Francisco came up with 14 saves.
Sophomore midfielder Will Tobias helped the Falcons win 15 face-offs, and six of those came in the second half. Tobias said his team needed to stay composed when Liberty (5-9) crafted a few scoring runs to go ahead, and that paid off down the stretch.
“You could feel that shift of momentum from their side of the bench to ours,” Tobias said.
Nick Hinton had three goals and two assists for Liberty, which led 5-2 on five straight goals to close the first quarter and open the second. Hinton netted the last goal in that run, only to watch Winters Mill pour in four in a row to take a 6-5 lead.
Hinton’s third goal came late in the quarter, and the county rivals were tied 7-7 at the break.
Liberty focused on Ross, who led Carroll in goals coming into this playoff contest. Ross had three of his four goals in the first half, but netted a fourth with 4 minutes to play, after the Lions committed a turnover, to give WM an 11-10 lead.
Ross’ marker was the Falcons’ third goal in 59 seconds following that midfield mistake that led to Liberty’s Chris Darmino potting a goal from just inside the restraining line into the empty net.
Jesse Jason’s goal with 1:10 remaining gave the Lions life, but they couldn’t come up with the equalizer.
“The game was tremendous,” Liberty coach Josh Burchett said via text message following the loss. “Our team had [its] best all-around performance of the year.”
Burchett, in his first year as Lions coach, praised his seniors — Darminio, Ryan Luthe, Bradley Jones, Hunter Rask, Justin Ricketts, and Roberto Ortiz — for their leadership.
Meanwhile, Winters Mill moves on to face another county foe in Century on Friday in the sectional semifinals.
“At the end of the day our goal is to just keep winning,” Stewart said. “Keep going on our streak, let the avalanche roll. It started to come together there at the end, and we’re making a run.”
Goals: L-Nick Hinton 3, Jackson Wright 2, Steven Talbot 2, Jesse Jason, Justin Bartolowtis, Chris Darminio, Connor Stewart; WM-Kaden Ross 5, Reid Stewart 4, Brady McGuire, Zach Urban, Alex Carr, Jeremy Bloom.
Assists: L-Hinton 2, Talbot 2, Stewart, Nick Geppi; WM-Jansen Pusateri 2, Urban 2, Carr 2, Ross.
Saves: L-7 (Justin Long); WM-14 (Jax Francisco).
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Halftime: Tied, 7-7.