HOWARD COUNTY, MD — “We can actually do this. We have a chance. Let’s go.”
Those were the thoughts running through the heads of Oakland Mills field hockey players after Hannah Smelkinson scored late in the first half at Hammond on Thursday afternoon. It did not matter that the Scorpions entered the 2A East, Section II semifinal with seven losses in as many games against county opponents this season. Or that three weeks ago to the day, when these two teams met during the regular season, it was Hammond that came out on the right side of a 5-1 result.
Oakland Mills had not won a playoff game since 2010 yet was confident this was the one that would break the drought.
Sure enough, the Scorpions rode the momentum of their first goal into the second half, where they did not stop at two or even three scores. With senior forward Gretchen Bigasova (two goals, one assist) leading the charge, the Scorpions found the cage four times — their highest offensive output in a county game since 2015 — en route to defeating Hammond, 4-1, and advancing to Monday’s sectional final against River Hill.
“What [this win] means to us is that we’re really improving,” Bigasova said. “We haven’t even had a JV team for the past four or five years, so … our program is really small. We’re trying to get it to grow, and I think this means that we’re finally growing.”
Despite going down a goal in the sixth minute on a goal from junior Sydney Phillips, Oakland Mills (3-9 overall) controlled this postseason matchup from the onset. The Scorpions produced more corners (seven), shots on goal (six) than Hammond and forced Golden Bears goalkeeper Amira Cooper to make five saves in the first half alone. Almost the entire 30 minutes were played in the Scorpions’ offensive half.
A goal finally came four minutes before the break off a feed from Bigasova that Smelkinson was there to finish. The Scorpions had finally converted a scoring opportunity but immediately wanted more.
They continued to win the possession in the final frame, which was scoreless for more than 16 minutes before Bigasova finished a close-range shot from the left post. Then, less than a minute later, leading scorer Mackenzie Minarcin intercepted a pass in the Golden Bears’ circle, took a few dribbles and sent a shot that Cooper could not handle. Down, 3-1, with 12 minutes, 29 seconds left to save its season, Hammond called a timeout.
“We really didn’t play as a team,” Golden Bears coach Lauren Harrison said. “We just played individually, didn’t really work together very well, so I think we couldn’t recover from that.”
Harrison added her team was forced to tinker with its starting lineup due to a few key absences, which in turn hindered its overall energy level. Hammond (3-10) produced just two shots on goal and forced Justis Steele to make just one save.
Overall, Harrison said it’s been a rebuilding year for the Golden Bears, who will graduate nine seniors and return just one junior but expect significant contributions from this season’s sophomore class moving forward.
As for Oakland Mills, Bigasova put the finishing touches on Thursday’s long-awaited postseason triumph with a well-timed strike off a pinpoint pass from senior midfielder Peyton Gomes with 2:44 to play. The Scorpions were moving on, and by doing so, earned a special field trip with first-year coach Kristen Vance and a special guest.
“Pumpkin patch is what I said,” Vance answered when asked what she told her team after the win. “I promised them that they could take my 1-year-old to the pumpkin patch tomorrow [if they won], so everyone is excited and won for the pumpkin patch.”
2A East, Section II semifinal
Oakland Mills (3-9) — 4; Hammond (3-10) — 1
Goals: OM — Gretchen Bigasova 2, Hannah Smelkinson, Mackenzie Minarcin; Ha — Sydney Phillips.
Assists: OM — Peyton Gomes, Bigasova; Ha — Kim Taylor.
Saves: OM — Justis Steele 1; Ha — Amira Cooper 9.
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