Senior Val Thompson knows that she can contribute in a number of ways. That versatility paid off well for her visiting Liberty Lions on Friday night just when they needed it most.
The Lions used Thompson, a prolific goal scorer, as a decoy in the second half, and blew open a tight game with a nine-goal run to start the half. The Lions defeated Francis Scott Key, 16-8, in a Class 1A West Region I semifinal.
Riley Matthiesen scored four goals to lead Liberty (8-7), while Drew Watkins’ four goals led the Eagles (6-6).
Liberty advances to the regional championship Monday night at South Carroll. The top-seeded Cavaliers had a bye into the finals.
“One of our assistants, Todd Matthiessen, noticed that they were keying on Val every time she touched the ball,” Liberty coach Tom Brandel said. “We asked her to be a good team player, and that’s exactly what she did. We started running off of her picks, and then we started putting the ball in the back of the net.”
Boy, did they ever. Leading 7-5 at the half, the Lions went on a 9-0 run to blow the game wide open.
“We just tried a little different type of offense where I was setting picks, and it worked,” Thompson said. “I think we got four or five goals off of that until they started to adjust.”
Liberty scored the first three goals of the game, one each by Thompson, Matthiessen and Jenna Evans, building a lead just 3:18 into the first half. But FSK rallied. The Eagles, behind goals by Watkins, Bailey Marron, Harley Kalin and Hunter Kalin, scored four of the next five goals to tie the game at 4 with 7:21 left in the half.
Liberty answered with the next three goals, taking a 7-4 lead with 1:07 left in the first half. However, Watkins scored with 13 seconds left in the half to cut the margin to 7-5 at the break.
The game was effectively over after Liberty scored six goals in the first six minutes of the second half. The Lions would win the draws, run a patient offense, then score off the picks set by Thompson.
“We’ve come a long way since the season began,” Thompson said. “We still have a few things we need to work on, but I think we are in a good position right now.”
The Lions will now face South Carroll, a team they lost to by one goal during the regular season. In spite of their impressive showing in this game, Liberty knows it’s one and done from now on.
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“We have to come out even stronger,” said Evans, who finished with three goals. “We’ve played a tough schedule this year, but we can’t have one-goal losses anymore.”
Thompson said the fact that the Lions are the defending state champions also puts a little extra pressure on the team.
“We set the bar high,” said Thompson. “People know when they play us that they are playing the defending state champions. We kind of have a target on our backs. We’re in the playoffs now, and it’s up to us to live up to that.”
Goals: L – Matthiesen 4, A. Pond 3, Thompson 3, Evans 3, Spampinato 2, Jendrek; FSK – Watkins 4, Ha. Kalin, Hu. Kalin, Bancroft, Marron.
Assists: L – Thompson 3, Evans 2, Matthiesen; FSK – Marron, Rose.
Saves: E. Pond 4; FSK – Watkins 6, Gladden 8.
Halftime: L, 7-5.