Carroll County took over Western Regional Park on Wednesday for a pair of field hockey regional championship games, and the four representatives put together two nail-biting matchups.
Liberty prevailed in the Class 1A West Region 1 final by edging South Carroll 1-0 in overtime, while Century bested Manchester Valley 2-1 to take the 2A North Region 2 title.
The Lions stayed undefeated (15-0) when Caitlynn Szarko’s backhanded shot, coming out of a penalty corner, bounded into the cage. The shot was stopped by SC goalie Rachel Hagler, but the ball landed over the goal line for the game-winner with 4 minutes, 8 seconds remaining in the extra period.
Liberty failed to convert on its first 15 penalty corners before Caroline Evans inserted to Kayleigh Ward, who found Szarko and set up the clinching goal.
“We just repeat [to each other] to stay positive, and to do what we know to do ... our give-and-go’s, and hitting up the field fast,” said senior Christine Goetz.
South Carroll (9-7) held its own, just like it did Sept. 16 in a 1-0 loss at Liberty. Backed by a sturdy defense, led by senior captain Courtney Vasquenza, the Cavaliers turned away many a Lions scoring chance during regulation. The Liberty corners mounted, however, and SC could come up with only two.
Vasquenza shared captain duties this season with fellow seniors Julia Weiss and Meghan Radnoff, and coach Julia Radnoff praised their efforts Wednesday.
Szarko almost won it for Liberty a few minutes earlier in the OT with a backhanded flick that just missed the far side of the cage, but things stayed scoreless.
“We struggle with corners ... big time. We’ve just got to figure it out,” said Lions coach Brenda Strohmer. “[South Carroll’s] defense was solid. They played awesome. We knew it was going to be Round 2, we knew it was going to be this tough.”
Across the way, Century (11-4) pulled ahead with a second-half goal by Mackenzie Feltz and held on for the victory. Feltz scored with 18:43 to play and the Knights’ defense held from there despite a few Man Valley surges down the stretch.
Feltz assisted on Century’s first goal, from Maria Rekus during a penalty corner, but the Mavericks (5-9) answered early in the second half when Jessie Bare scored from a Bryce Doran assist on a penalty corner of their own.
The Knights prevailed, however, in their second one-goal victory over Man Valley this fall. Century won the regular-season matchup 1-0 in double overtime.
“I knew that Manchester Valley was going to come to win,” said Knights coach Terry Duryea, who played her high school hockey at North Carroll for current MV coach Denean Koontz. “I think that they played a great game, and we ended up scoring two goals.”
Century is back in the state tournament for the first time since 2013, when Duryea led the Knights to their only championship. The Knights fell short of winning the county title when Liberty beat them 2-0 on Oct. 14, but they responded by beating Patterson Mill to close the regular season to get ready for the playoffs.
“We had to move on right away, and we’ve moved on,” Duryea said.
Meanwhile, Liberty returns to the state tourney for the fourth consecutive season. The Lions won a 1A state title in 2016, and earned the 2A crown last fall. They had to knock out the reigning 1A state champs this time around to advance, something Liberty’s veterans took to heart.
“That was the best feeling ever,” said Meghan Huey, one of the Lions’ eight seniors. “We have been in, since my freshman year — overtime, shootouts, strokes ... very close. There’s not a single player on this team that will not give it their all.”