CATONSVILLE — It took 24 minutes of Friday’s Class 1A West Region championship game for Liberty to realize the stakes. After that, the Lions took control and savored the latter stages of their matchup with unbeaten Pikesville at CCBC-Catonsville.
“I think our coaches talked to us at halftime and they were like, ‘Listen, just settle down. It’s just another game,’” junior attackman Jesse Jason said. “When all of our seniors left, it was a little rough. We had to pull up a bunch of guys ... It’s crazy, unreal.”
Jason and his teammates knew this one wasn’t “just another game,” not with a trip to the state quarterfinals on the line. So after trailing at halftime, Liberty rolled to a 14-6 victory by holding Pikesville (7-1) to two second-half goals and opening things up on offense once more.
Jason finished with seven goals and fellow junior attackman Jason Wright added three. Liberty (5-6) stumbled through most of the first half and trailed 3-1 late in the first quarter before Jason got things going. His scoring looks got better as the game went on, too — the Lions outscored the Panthers 11-2 in the second half, and Jason was able to enjoy himself on the field with his teammates during drawn-out possessions.
“I did not imagine this at all at the beginning of the year,” Jason said. “I thought it was just going to be another year [when] COVID hit, I didn’t think people were working hard. And then we got to the first practice and it was straight, everyone was competitive. Practices were probably the most intense I’ve had in my three years.”
Evan Flaks paced Pikesville’s offense with four goals, and he scored with 1:49 to go in the second quarter to give the Panthers a 4-2 lead. Jason netted his second of the game about 40 seconds later to pull Liberty within one, then had two more in the third for some insurance.
The Lions enjoyed an 8-1 fourth quarter advantage and pulled away. Senior midfielders Will Allen and Jordan Ambrose added two goals apiece, and senior goalie Justin Long came up with 10 saves.
“Pikesville is a good team, they came out and played us hard,” said Lions coach Josh Burchett. “But these guys trust each other. It’s a ‘we-ball,’ not a ‘me-ball’ attitude. They finished the game together.”
Liberty will find out its state quarterfinal foe next week, but Burchett and Jason said they’re just excited to be one of the teams still playing in mid-June. Burchett said he’s proud of the Lions’ ability to string together some wins after a challenging regular season.
“We look at as ... we’ve got five steps, and the sixth step is to raise a [championship] banner at the gym,” the coach said. “Right now we finished step two and we’re onto step three. So that’s what we’re looking for. That’s our mentality.”
Goals: L-Jesse Jason 7, Jackson Wright 3, Will Allen 2, Ambrose 2; P-Evan Flaks 4, Grant Goetz, Spencer Mann
Assists: L-Wright 2, Ambrose, Tre Williams; P-Flaks
Saves: L-12 (Justin Long 10, Joe Marsicano 2); 8 (Noah Jacobstein)
Halftime: Pikesville, 4-3