It’s not that Marriotts Ridge is a bad first half team. The Mustangs say they are just a good second half team.
What’s become a formula for Marriotts Ridge’s girls soccer team, the Mustangs went into halftime tied scoreless on Saturday but came out stronger in the second half to defeat visiting Westminster, 1-0. With the victory, the top-seeded Mustangs advanced to the MPSSAA Class 3A Region I final next week.
“We’ve always been that team," said Marriotts Ridge head coach Darius Qualls. "Some teams have different ways of handling games. We don’t get into the tempo until the second half, but we also make adjustments at halftime.”
Qualls’ squad hasn’t scored in the first half in six of its last eight games, but freshman Giavana Liberto’s second-half goal on Saturday came as a relief to the Mustangs offense that dominated possession and peppered Westminster’s goalie with shots.
“Sometimes it takes us a little bit of time to adapt," Liberto said. "But we’ve really worked hard. It was a little nerve-wracking coming in as a freshman, but I think we all really stepped up today.”
The victory sets up a region final — formerly the section final — between the county champion Mustangs and No. 2 Mt. Hebron (9-4). Marriotts Ridge (11-2) beat Mt. Hebron, 2-1, on Oct. 3.
Wesminster goalie Sydney Hetrick kept the Owls (3-10-1) in the game, especially in the first half. The sophomore had several impressing saves to keep the game tied until Liberto’s goal in the 58th minute. Hetrick totaled 10 saves in the loss.
“For her to step up in such a big game and play brilliantly, I couldn’t have asked anymore of her," said Westminster coach Dannielle Midkiff. "She really stepped up. It wasn’t just amazing saves. She was vocal and was a leader, too.”
Liberto’s goal, assisted by Paige Hockensmith, came at the end of a five-minute barrage by the Mustangs offense. Liberto, a freshman playing in her first career playoff game, was the most physical player on the field. Qualls said the performance was another example of how Liberto, who leads the team with nine goals, is more mature than most freshmen.
“Giavana is a natural forward, but we’ve been using her as (an outside midfielder) because we can get her out on the flanks, but we thought she’d be better off against their center backs, and that’s how we scored," Qualls said.
The defense, led by Kendall Bryan’s four goals, Morgan Choe’s ball skills and Lindsay Hockensmith’s communciation, pitched its seventh shutout of the season.
“I want to give a shoutout to our defense,” Liberto said. “Everyone back there stepped up.”
Marriotts Ridge hosts Hebron, which beat Centennial 1-0 on Friday, in the 3A East Region I final on Tuesday, Oct. 29, at 5 p.m. The winner will be one of eight region champions in Class 3A, all of which will then be re-seeded from Nos. 1-8 by regular season winning percentage.