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The best way to calm one’s nerves, at least for Liberty’s field hockey team, seems to be to apply pressure from the opening whistle until the final horn sounds. Even when the Lions’ first solid scoring chance gets washed away.

That’s how Thursday night’s Class 1A state semifinal played out between the Lions and Patuxent as a light but steady rain fell at Paint Branch High School.

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Speed and agility carried the Lions to a 5-0 victory, advancing them to the 1A final Saturday night at Washington College.

Junior forward Kayleigh Ward tallied three goals, senior midfielder Meghan Huey had two assists, and Liberty improved to 17-0 while notching its 12th shutout of the year.

It looked like Ward gave the Lions an early lead when she knocked a ball into the cage 46 seconds into play after Huey sent a pass into the circle. Officials waved off the goal on a penalty, however, and things remained scoreless.

For a few more minutes, at least.

“Our key points are give-and-gos, and quick passing, and I think that doing that from the start of the game ... we knew, ‘There’s no way to win this unless we score,’” Ward said. “After knowing that our first goal didn’t count we just had to keep building up from that.”

Ward and Huey said the referees’ ruling fired them up, so much that they made their second attempt count with a near identical set-up.

Liberty’s aggression finally paid off 10 minutes into the half, and Ward converted in front of the cage after Huey delivered a long assist from the far side. Huey slammed her stick into the turf in celebration while Ward received congratulations from her closest teammates.

“I get excited, and that’s my way of [showing it],” Huey said with a smile.

Ward scored a pair of second-half goals, and the Lions got one apiece from freshman Jenna Evans and senior Riley Pardoe. The five-goal lead gave Liberty the luxury of a running clock, and coach Brenda Strohmer was able to substitute liberally the rest of the way.

Liberty lost one of its key contributors about 7 minutes into the game when senior forward Caroline Evans (13 goals, eight assists) went down after the ball caromed off a stick and struck her in the head. She stayed on the ground for a few moments before leaving the field under her own power, and athletic trainers ran her through a few tests on the sideline.

Evans didn’t return to the game, but her departure didn’t seem to slow down the Lions.

“We came into this expecting the worst, expecting pouring down rain and freezing cold, and we just knew what we had to do,” Huey said. “That [disallowed] goal was everything we’ve worked on ... that just gave us that boost to be like, ‘Hey, we can do this. Let’s just do it again.’”

Liberty advances to take on Washington High School on Saturday night at 6:30 in Chestertown on the Eastern Shore. The Jaguars downed North East-Cecil 2-0 in the other 1A semifinal.

Patuxent (12-4) was seeking a fourth trip to the state finals in the last five seasons. The Panthers, who posted 11 shutouts this fall, earned their fifth consecutive 1A South Region title en route to Thursday’s game.

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Longtime Patuxent coach Lynn Powell earned career win No. 250 when the Panthers beat Francis Scott Key last week in the state quarterfinals. Meanwhile, Strohmer has 94 victories in her nine seasons as Liberty’s coach.

Her next win brings with it back-to-back state titles, and a third in four seasons.

“They’re quick, their stick-stills are great,” Strohmer said of her players. “They’re quick to the ball, they’re quick on their shots. So that’s what we’ve been working focusing on lately. I love it when we take what we practice into the game.”

Goals: L-Kayleigh Ward 3, Riley Pardoe, Jenna Evans.

Assists: L-Meghan Huey 2, Christine Goetz, Caitlynn Szarko.

Saves: P-4 (Sydney Wolf); L-1 (Mikayla Bull).

Halftime: Liberty, 1-0.

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