The large scoreboard hovering over the Marriotts Ridge bench at Loyola University’s Ridley Athletic Complex prominently displayed all that stood between the Mustangs and a 3A state title Friday night as coach Amanda Brady called for a timeout.
In the moment, it felt like an eternity.
The Mustangs’ momentum was gone, and a second-half lead that was once six goals had been trimmed to two by C. Milton Wright. Yet, as coach Amanda Brady addressed her team, she wasn’t concerned with anything except what lay ahead.
“I pulled them in and basically said, ‘Guys, look at the time. This is our season.’ Forget everything else up until that point, those next five minutes had to be ours,” Brady said. “Everything we have been working toward was right there in front of us, it was just up to us to finish it.”
With four goals in the next four minutes, finish is exactly what Marriotts Ridge did.
Pulling away for good with its closing push, the Mustangs defeated CMW by a score of 15-11 to secure the program’s first state championship since 2014.
Maisy Clevenger led the Marriotts Ridge charge with a game-high five goals, while Maggie Merrill (four goals), Sofie Bender (two goals), Annika Huelskamp (two goals) and Hayley Lettinga (two goals) joined her with multiple scores.
“There were points where, I’m not going to lie, looking up at that scoreboard was scary. You feel like you are so close, but at the same time so far,” said Clevenger, a sophomore. “But that’s where the timeouts, the team huddles, helped. It gave us a chance to settle down and made everyone refocus … it got us back to playing how we know we can play.”
CMW (13-2), which was led by three goals and two assists from Lydia Cassilly, never got closer than the 11-9 score with 5:08 remaining. Merrill and Clevenger scored back-to-back goals within a span of 11 seconds following the timeout to push the Marriotts Ridge (10-1) lead to 13-9 with 4:33 left.
In the end, the deficit for CMW — which was 8-3 at the break and 9-3 just 20 seconds into the second half — was just too large to fully recover from.
“We got ourselves in a hole that we were basically trying to dig out of the entire game,” CMW coach Faye Brust said. “That second half is the way we know how to play, so it’s sad to see that the first half put us in such a tough spot. But I was so proud that we left it all out there.”
It was CMW that scored the game’s first goal five minutes in, as Kaityln Bajkowski finished a feed from Reese Baldwin.
However, once Clevenger got her team on the board with 18:17 remaining in the opening half — and then fired home another 30 seconds later — Marriotts Ridge found its groove.
“It was like after my second goal, other people realized that they were able to drive too and it was an area where we had an advantage. And I feel like once we saw it go into the back of the net, it all started flowing,” Clevenger said.
Marriotts Ridge methodically built its advantage as the half progressed, including scoring two unanswered goals in the final two minutes before intermission to go up by five.
Merrill’s tally right out of halftime increased the lead to six.
But that’s when CMW found life. Over a span of 16 minutes, it outscored Marriotts Ridge 5-1 to get itself right back into the game. During that same stretch, goalie Sawyer Graham (12 saves) made several big stops.
“We just realized that we had come all this way, we had to finally show the things that we have been doing this whole season,” Cassilly said. “It’s too bad it took all that time to get it together, but that second half was really amazing.”
Marriotts Ridge simply never let CMW come all the way back. Goalie Grace Hejeebu had a lot to do with protecting the lead, making six of her eight saves in the final 14 minutes.
“When they started getting the momentum, we knew it was going to come down to who was going to step up and make a play. When they came within two, I mentally said to myself, I’m going to be that person and I’m going to have my team’s back,” Hejeebu said. “Then my defense had my back on the clears and we closed it out together.”
Even with a multi-goal lead down the stretch, however, it wasn’t until the final seconds ticked off the clock and the players rushed the field that Brady allowed herself to celebrate.
“The way [CMW] was scrapping, clawing … it wasn’t until that clock ran out when I let it sink in that we really did it,” Brady said. “What a feeling, though. These girls, especially the senior class, have been through so much these last couple years and to see them finish like this is unbelievable.”
Marriotts Ridge 15, C. Milton Wright 11
Goals: MR — Maisy Clevenger 5, Maggie Merrill 4, Sofie Bender 2, Annika Huelskamp 2, Hayley Lettinga 2; CMW — Lydia Cassilly 3, Cailin Hetrick 2, Katie Roszko 2, Shelby Sullivan 2, Kaitlyn Bajkowski.
Assists: MR — Lauren Fisher; CMW — Bajkowski 2, Cassilly 2, Reese Baldwin.
Saves: MR — Grace Hejeebu 8; CMW — Sawyer Graham 12.
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Halftime: 8-3, MR.