About a month before its game with Glenelg on Tuesday, the Marriotts Ridge field hockey team slowly walked off its home field after just its fourth county loss in as many years. Mt. Hebron scored with nine minutes to play and then in overtime, sealing the Mustangs' third defeat in five tries to start the season.
In the team huddle afterwards, coach Stacie Gado and players vowed not to lose another league game. They were supposed to challenge Glenelg for the county title once again and still believed they would do so.
Three straight non-county defeats followed, dropping Marriotts Ridge to 2-6, but it hasn't lost since and now holds at least a share of the county title after a 1-0 triumph over Glenelg.
It marked the Mustangs sixth straight victory but meant far more than just another tally in the win column.
"At the start of the season, our team had a lot of potential," senior goalkeeper Katie Garman said. "We started a little rough, but we just had to get things set up. We had to get the feel and the starters all ready. But once we got that rolling, our season has definitely picked up."
Garman was stellar in goal, making 12 stops and helping shut out a Glenelg team that earned 12 corners. Marriotts Ridge (6-1 county, 8-6 overall) capitalized on just one of its seven corners, but junior Erin Ko's strike with 1 minute, 34 seconds left in the first half surprisingly held up.
With the victory, the Mustangs will share the county title with the winner of Wednesday's contest between River Hill (5-1, 9-3-1) and Glenelg (5-1, 8-3), which has won or shared the past 9 league championships.
"Corners are made to finish, and they finished on their corners and we did not," Gladiators coach Nicole Trunzo said. "It's how it goes."
Those struggles began soon after the opening whistle and lasted until Marriotts Ridge players mobbed Garman after the final buzzer. Within the first five minutes, Glenelg earned fourstraight corners and couldn't finish any of its five attempts. The Gladiators had four more corners in the final five minutes and again came up empty.
Sophomore Kathryn Hoffman had the best look during that span — a liner from near the middle of the circle — but Garman flicked her left leg out to deflect the ball away.
Time and time again, Gado has proclaimed her defense as the team's strongest returning unit. It looked the part Tuesday, with Emily Talentino, Bailey Christianson and Emy Nelson contesting every shot. On the off chance an attempt got past the trio, Garman stepped up to ensure Marriotts Ridge' fourth shutout in its past five games.
"She's able to see the entire field and tell the girls where they need to be," Gado said. "And they listen to her because she's a very positive leader out there."
For almost 30 minutes, the Mustangs failed to benefit from their stout defense. One goal from Glenelg, and they'd have to play from behind against their toughest opponent yet.
Thanks to Ko, with some help from junior Lauren McAuley, that never happened.
Marriotts Ridge' third corner of the game didn't begin with much promise, as the inital pass dribbled past sophomore Gracie Kennedy. But the ball bounced right to Nelson, who fed McAuley on the left side. Without hesitation, she dumped it off to Ko for a one-timer aimed toward the far corner of the goal.
Moments later, the Mustangs congregated near the front of the cage to celebrate the game's only score.
Gado's team continued to push forward throughout the second half. With Glenelg's success earning corners, one goal didn't seem like it'd be enough to earn the win.
But as time elapsed and the Marriotts Ridge defense held strong, the pressure on the Gladiators to score mounted. Each shot held more importance than the next, knowing it could be their last.
Time eventually ran out, eliminating any chance for Glenelg to secure an outright county title.
Should the Gladiators beat River Hill on Wednesday, they'll share the distinction with the team that handed them their lone county blemish.
"Glenelg is definitely our rival, and winning this tonight is a big deal," Garman said Tuesday. "We go back and forth in winning and losing against Glenelg, but we're going to keep going."