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Liberty took to the air in order to secure its third field hockey state championship in four seasons.

The Lions came to Washington College for Saturday’s Class 1A final wanting to cap their undefeated season with another trophy. They had to first get past a pesky opponent in Washington High School of Somerset County, that was searching for its first state crown in 19 years.

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Liberty’s aerial tactics made sure the Jaguars had to wait at least one more season.

The Lions scored a pair of goals in nifty fashion, the second coming from sophomore Caitlynn Szarko with less than 14 minutes remaining that stood as the game-winner in Liberty’s 2-1 victory.

Szarko created some space in Washington’s defense by moving to her left around the circle, then smacked the ball with a reverse chip shot. The ball lofted over Jaguars goalie Hannah LaRue and into the cage — good timing for the Lions’ young forward.

“I saw an opening and I knew I had been working on that all season,” Szarko said. “I was like, ‘Why not? State game.’ I would have regretted it if I [didn’t] do it. I’ve done it in games, but that’s the first time it has worked.”

The Owls kept their surge going in overtime, and Moshang found herself in a great spot during the second corner try of the OT.

Liberty (18-0) held its lead despite a late flurry by Washington, which had a chance to tie things up in the final moments. The Jaguars (10-4-1) earned a penalty corner as time expired, and by rule were allowed to finish the play out. They got a second crack at a corner seconds later, still with zeroes on the clock, but came away empty and the Lions held on.

“Whew, that was a tough one,” Liberty coach Brenda Strohmer said. “That team is awesome. Kudos to [Washington]. I feel like we didn’t play our best, but once they regrouped and got it together they played great.”

The Jaguars played the aggressor for the opening stages of the first half, but Liberty settled in and broke a scoreless tie with about 16 minutes before the break. The Lions crashed the circle and senior forward Riley Pardoe got her stick on a mid-air deflection to bounce the ball past Washington goalie Hannah LaRue.

Szarko got credit for an assist on the goal.

Liberty led at the half, but the Jags drew even with 21:10 to play while the Lions were one player down because of a card. Washington drew a penalty corner and leading scorer McKenna Horner took over — the sophomore weaved her way around the Lions’ defense during the corner and fired a shot from the near side that got past goalie Mikayla Bull.

Liberty gathered itself following Horner’s 19th goal of the season, backed by nine seniors and a host of veterans that were motivated to finish the mission of winning another state title. The Lions won a 1A championship in 2016 and earned the 2A title last season.

“We’re finally seeing the practice that we do, and it’s paying off,” Pardoe said. “It’s giving us our goals, it’s why we’re winning.”

Strohmer said she took her players into Liberty’s gymnasium Friday to show them the program’s previous state title banners, and senior Christine Goetz spoke up. Strohmer said Goetz made sure her teammates understood losing at Washington College this year wasn’t an option.

“We don’t want to go into overtime in a state championship game, so we knew we had to compose ourselves,” Goetz said after the game.

Added senior Meghan Huey: “Coming here and being able to finish and get that done is the best feeling ever.”

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Goals: W-McKenna Horner; L-Riley Pardoe, Caitlynn Szarko.

Assists: W-none; L-Pardoe.

Saves: W-4 (Hannah LaRue); L-1 (Mikayla Bull).

Halftime: Liberty, 1-0.

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