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Howard girls soccer beats Catonsville, 2-1, for first region title

Howard made full use of its home-field advantage against Catonsville in the 4A North regional championship on Tuesday night.

The Lions scored twice on friendly bounces off rebounds from shots that rang off the goal post and that turned out to be enough offense to hold off visiting Catonsville, 2-1, for the first girls soccer regional title in Howard program history.

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Seems like (the goalposts) were our best friend tonight, said first-year Howard coach Bali Boule. That doesnt happen to us a lot, but it means that were shooting, so Ill take it.

The Lions (11-4) had their goals set high since the beginning of the season and, despite not being at the very top of the league, they put it together when it matters most.

Its everything. You play the entire season for playoffs, Boule said. I said (earlier this season) I promise youre a good team, just believe me. I think they believe now. ... None of my girls have ever experienced this, so this is amazing.

Things almost got away from Howard late when Comets senior Lauren McDonald scored in stoppage time after the ball ping-ponged around the six-yard box for several seconds off a corner kick.

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Although Catonsville had the Lions on their heels after that while pushing for the tying-goal, it proved to be too little too late for the 2013 4A state finalists.

Its crazy. We set a goal in the beginning of the season that were states bound, and everyday and every game we say states bound, states bound’” senior Nia Elbeck said. All of our hard work is paying off.

Howards first goal came in the 22nd minute when a shot from junior Sara Cocozza rang off the right post and senior Brianna Brown corralled the rebound at the top of the box and shot it past Catonsville senior goalie Natalie Croom into the top-right corner.

The goal was the first of the season for Brown, but a more familiar goal-scorer ultimately put away the game winner.

Again it would be the post that saved the day for the Lions. With only 5:24 remaining, Elbeck scored her 16th goal of the season and third of the playoffs off a rebound from a shot by senior Fern Peters that hit the right post.

Nia is such a quality striker, Boule said. She creates things, and shes fast. Shes not scared to take someone on or distribute the ball. ... Nia has obviously been such an important player on this team, but shes surrounded by teammates who are out there to support her.

Eighteen different girls played in the final for Howard, and Boule credits the deep bench for holding the lead throughout the game.

We have quality subs for every position and I just needed fresh girls on the field, Boule said. I needed the highest intensity possible on the field that they could give me, so I am constantly putting fresh legs on the field, getting people breaks and keep trying to not create any holes in our defense.

The Comets had several chances in each half but couldnt execute until the final minutes.

In the 36th minute, senior Jenn Nonn dribbled past the Howard defense and missed just wide-right on a shot from about 10-yards out.

Catonsville narrowly missed the goal again, this time wide-left, in the 62nd minute when senior Renee Gast just missed on her 15-yard shot.

The Lions will face South River in the 4A state semifinals on either Friday or Saturday.

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