Liberty lined up for a set play deep inside Manchester Valley territory, with the outcome of Thursday’s Class 2A West playoff game very much in doubt.
Senior midfielder Heidi Ellis liked the Lions’ chances, however, when she saw teammate Christine Goetz standing over the ball, lined up 25 yards from the cage. Ellis said she had seen such plays develop before this season, and she seemed to know the script as it played out.
Goetz smacked the ball into the circle, where Caitlynn Szarko knocked it out of the air with her stick and into the cage.
Liberty grabbed the lead with 12 minutes to play and held on to win 3-2 in a Section 1 semifinal.
“I can’t imagine a more ‘Liberty Way’ to score,” Ellis said. “We have done that in past games, and Christine has a rock-solid hit. And somehow Caitlynn literally always manages to get a touch on it. So I was not surprised with the way we scored, but it was just super exciting that we were able to get the lead.”
The Lions (13-2) played for the first time in two weeks and needed most of regulation to fend off a feisty Mavericks squad coming off a playoff victory two days prior. Man Valley drew even late in the first half, on a goal from freshman Madison Fisher, and went ahead 2-1 early in the second half on a breakaway.
The Mavs rushed six players on three defenders, and Fisher assisted junior forward Bryce Doran for the go-ahead goal.
Moments later, after the restart, Liberty coach Brenda Strohmer called a timeout and did her best to settle things down.
“They came out ready to play,” junior forward Caroline Evans said about the Mavericks. “Neither of us wanted to go home, neither of us wanted this to be our last game. I think they came out to beat us, and we just didn’t match that at first.”
Evans had two goals Thursday, the second of which came from an Ellis assist and tied the score at 2-2 with 21 minutes to play.
Szarko gave the Lions the lead, but Man Valley (5-11) wasn’t ready to give in. The Mavs stayed aggressive, and had a surge in the final minute that nearly resulted with the game-tying score.
The ball bounced behind Liberty’s back row after a transition pass from near midfield, and Fisher had her stick on the ball inside the circle. Lions goalie Grace Fenner came out to try and cut off an angle, and Fisher got off a shot that bounded just past the cage to Fenner’s right.
Manchester Valley’s defense, anchored by senior Cambria Leidy and junior Jaclynn Gouge, held off several Liberty attacks in the first half to keep the game close.
Senior goalie Hannah Yaede did her part with eight saves.
The Mavericks snapped an eight-game losing streak by beating Winters Mill 5-2 on Tuesday in the sectional quarterfinals. And first-year coach Whitney Stonesifer said she was proud of how they held their own against the Carroll County Athletic League champions.
“Proud of how far we came,” said Stonesifer, who loses eight seniors from this year’s squad. “Even from the point that we’ve grown from midseason to now … so much more than I could have ever put on them in the beginning of the season. They want it just as bad as I think anyone else does.”
Liberty, which has won five straight, advances to play Century on Monday. The Lions edged the Knights 1-0 on Oct. 11 to win the CCAL crown.
Strohmer said she’s glad Liberty survived a game like Thursday’s, which she hopes will propel them through the remainder of the postseason.
“Desperation kicked in and they played what they know how to play,” Strohmer said about the Lions’ second half. “Kudos to Manchester Valley, they were awesome. … I contribute [the win] to my leadership, my seniors, my captains.”