Marriotts Ridge girls lacrosse junior attacker Sofie Bender found herself 8 meters from the cage with an opportunity to put her Mustangs in a position to become champions. They clawed back from three goals down to tie Severna Park and earned a free-position shot late in the game.
With a two-player advantage, in a spot she’s shot from countless times, the junior rifled the ball high past Severna Park goalie Sarah Krause with 54.8 seconds remaining for what became the game-winner as the fifth-seed Mustangs defeated the second-seed Falcons, 11-10, to capture the program’s second consecutive Class 3A state championship and fifth overall.
It also marked Bender’s first game-winning goal in her high school career.
“I had Maisy [Clevenger] and Hayley [Lettinga] both look me in the eyes and say, ‘You can do this.’ Hayley said, ‘I’ve seen you score 1,000 8 meters you can do this.’ You can believe in yourself all you want, but when your team says something, I said, ‘There is no missing this goal.’ I was really nervous, but also really confident because I knew my team had my back.”
It put the finishing touches on Marriotts Ridge’s furious comeback in the final 13 minutes. Trailing by three, Clevenger scored consecutive goals, bringing the Mustangs (15-4) back within one with 4:05 remaining. Tying a team-high with four goals, Clevenger consistently gave the Falcons’ defense trouble with her speed and dodging ability.
Less than a minute later with a player advantage, Lettinga scored her fourth and final tally of the evening, tying the game at 10. Using her size and strength, Lettinga fought off two Severna Park defenders, beating Krause to the far side.
“Especially when we are scored on, getting in that huddle and everyone just hyping each other up,” Clevenger said. “There was no negative talk. Every huddle that I was in, it was a next-play mentality and get out there, fix what you did before. It’s no one’s fault. Then, we were talking and sliding on defense, doing so well. On offense after we scored a goal, just looking at everybody and saying, ‘All right, do it again.”
Trailing by one at halftime, Severna Park (17-3) came out energized to start the second. The Falcons scored three goals in the opening three minutes, two from attacker Alyssa Gore-Chung. She pushed the pace immediately off the draw, which translated into quick offensive success. The sophomore scored a team-high four goals, also adding two assists.
“We had a lot of energy,” Gore-Chung said of the start to the second half. “Delanie Abere, she always brings the energy. At the start of the second half, I got the goal and she just pumped us all up.”
From there, the roller coaster of emotions continued for both teams. Marriotts Ridge scored the ensuing two goals, bringing the game even at 7 with 19:37 remaining. However, the Falcons orchestrated another three-goal run in 3:17 to take a 10-7 lead. Abere catalyzed that stretch with a pair of goals, cutting near the cage.
Facing their largest deficit of the evening, the Mustangs didn’t flinch, continuing to fight harder as the clock wound down. Using her length, Lettinga won several draw controls for the Mustangs, allowing them to maintain possession.
Attacking the net with aggressiveness, the Mustangs made the Falcons pay for defensive fouls. Lettinga’s goal to tie the game at 10 came with a player advantage, the first of two tallies that Marriotts Ridge scored after drawing a yellow card.
“I think a lot of stuff just kind of fell on us, which is hard,” Severna Park coach Kaitlyn Hines said. “As a team, we want to take care of what we can control and when things start to kind of fall on our own mistakes, that’s what makes it tough.”
Despite trailing, the Mustangs were disciplined offensively. That offered a stark contrast to their early-season meeting when the Falcons defeated the Mustangs, 16-6, on March 29. However, on Wednesday night, Marriotts Ridge was the more methodical and composed unit, patiently working the ball around for the right shot.
“For us going in, we saw the first look in one of our sets and we’re like, ‘Oh that’s going to be there all day,’” Marriotts Ridge coach Amanda Brady said. “Knowing that they were able to execute, they were really smart.
“It’s one of the first years we’ve had such a disciplined offense. They’re looking back after 30 seconds and as coaches, that’s huge because that’s all you can ask for is for your girls to trust you. They’re trusting each other and they’re executing, so that was pretty sweet.”
Bender’s goal with 54.8 seconds remaining was the crown jewel of that patient offensive approach, inching the Mustangs closer to their ultimate goal. Shortly after, they engulfed goalie Grace Hejeebu in celebration, then proudly turning toward the Mustangs faithful with smiles ear to ear.
“That was the best feeling,” Mustangs defender Emi Moran said. “I can’t even describe it. I was literally shaking, it was just amazing.”