ELLICOTT CITY — Erin Anderson floated around the right wing and zipped into the slot, flashing toward teammate Chloe Sedlar, who cradled Westminster’s season and all those prior incomplete title runs in the basket of her stick.
This was the biggest moment the Owls’ girls lacrosse program faced in six years: Overtime in the Class 3A semifinals — one goal away from a state title game appearance — with last year’s 4A-3A champions Bel Air standing in their way.
“We knew it was going to come down to the last second,” Westminster coach Jackie Stevens said. “We didn’t want to [come up short] again.”
Last year, Bel Air ousted Westminster from the playoffs in overtime. This season, the Bobcats bested them once more. But on Saturday morning at Mount Hebron High School, Anderson finished a bread-and-butter play that powered Westminster out of the shadows and past Bel Air, 10-9.
The Owls will play Mount Hebron for the 3A crown at Stevenson University — a shot at the school’s first girls lacrosse state title.
“It’s so exciting,” Westminster senior attack Madi Macera said. “It’s been a long time coming. Our program has been waiting for this moment.”
Added Stevens: “Our whole purpose this year was ‘purpose.’ And they came out and played with it.”
For most of the game, the Owls were able to exploit looks at the front of the net off hard backdoor crashes or cuts from the wing. It also helped that the game-winning strike came in a man-up situation, freeing more room for Anderson to shake loose and net the quick feed from Sedlar — a play Westminster has run countless times this season.
“[Erin is] one of our best cutters. I think it’s perfect she was the one that scored the goal,” said Westminster junior midfielder Anna Ruby, who finished with four goals. “It just shows off her talent and what we’ve been working with all season.”
The Owls likely would’ve dealt with another disheartening loss if not for a well-executed defensive stand in the waning seconds of regulation. Bel Air controlled the final two minutes of the second half, firing off two good looks before Maddi Hall, the team’s second-leading scorer, lined up for a free-position chance with 18 seconds remaining. But Westminster’s defense collapsed around Hall and forced her shot to dribble wide of the net.
“It was just a good crash on their part on defense,” Bel Air coach Kristen Barry said. “We had the player we wanted with the ball in that position. They did a good job of getting their sticks in there, knocking the ball down. It was a battle.”
When the teams met May 2, Bel Air controlled the tempo from the start and ended up with a 13-9 win. On Saturday, Westminster came out swinging. The Owls mounted a 5-1 by the 8:11 mark in the first half and dominated possession.
“It was just a matter of mentality, and getting that switch on and not letting go,” said Ruby, who is a Loyola commit and the team’s leading scorer.
The Bobcats got closer before the half after a pair of goals by Lauren Asher, who made it 5-3 at the break. Sedlar extended the Owls’ lead to 6-3 just 58 seconds into the second half, but three minutes later Julia Henry kindled a three-goal run with a wide-open strike at the doorstep and a free position look at the 20:32 and 19:12 marks.
Lauren Saltz tied it at 6-6 on a free position goal not long after.
Three times Westminster went ahead, but not without a Bel Air answer. Anderson and Ruby made it 7-6, 8-7 and 9-8 at the 17:03, 10:54 and 3:57 marks. But Asher and Saltz countered to knot it at 7-7, 8-8 and 9-9.
Though Bel Air never led during the contest, it remained a possession away from playing for its second straight title game.
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“It came down to the little things. The draw controls. Ground ball here, ground ball there,” Barry said. “They definitely disrupted our offense in the beginning, and our defense was having a hard time staying with their top players. Getting down early is never what you want, but our team showed a lot of resilience and we knew we had the talent to chip away at that lead and get right back into it.”