Glenelg senior goalkeeper Maddie McSally talks after the Gladiators’ 15-10 win on April 13. (Kyle Stackpole / BSMG)
Marriotts Ridge girls lacrosse freely passed the ball around the perimeter in the first half against Glenelg, yet the Mustangs seldom had a clean look at the net. They were still in the midst of trying to figure out the Gladiators' packed-in defense, which assistant coach Alex Pagnotta devised in the days leading up to Friday night's showdown between two of the state's best programs.
The Gladiators typically apply heavy defensive pressure, a successful tactic but also one that sometimes tires out their midfielders, a lot of whom spend the 50-minute game running up and down the field. And against a team like Marriotts Ridge, undefeated and ranked nationally ranked by US Lacrosse Magazine, Pagnatta wanted to preserve the energy of those players. Glenelg needed their offensive contributions, too.
The new scheme, while effective overall, was dominant in the first half, which went a long way to ensuring the Gladiators came out with a 15-10 triumph on Friday night. The Mustangs were seemingly met with several defenders whenever they caught the ball in front of goal. And when they did earn a clear shot, goalkeeper Maddie McSally (17 saves) made almost every stop.
The high-powered Marriotts Ridge offense amassed just three first-half goals while allowing three times that. And despite finding more scoring success after intermission, the early deficit proved too much to overcome.
"Offensively, our shots weren't falling and their goalie was making good saves," Mustangs coach Amanda Brady said. "And then defensively, we weren't able to come up with some saves of our own, and we weren't able to stop 1-v-1 defense."
Specifically, the Mustangs (2-1 county, 7-1 overall) struggled to contain seniors Georgia Esmond and Anna Callahan, who combined to score seven goals using a variety of dodges and cradle maneuvers to create open shots. Quick ball moment and sharp passes also produced goals. Senior Rachel Scheinberg was the other main beneficiary, scoring four times, while junior Sarah Cipolla added two goals.
The offensive outburst did not surprise Pagnatta, as he mentioned the group has showed steady improvement from the start of the season. Glenelg, coming off a undefeated season and a second straight state championship, has also played against nationally ranked competition twice this season.
Close losses to Notre Dame Prep and St. Stephen's & St. Agnes (Va.), coach Nicole Trunzo said, helped the Gladiators grow and develop ahead of their toughest county matchup of the the 2018 campaign.
"It's kind of a disservice to the girls if we don't challenge them, because a lot of them are continuing to play in college," Trunzo said. "So to have a great game, and if you you come out with a loss and learn something and it helps us prepare for the rest of our season, I think that's great for the girls."
Glenelg (3-0, 6-2) wasted little time asserting itself on the offensive end. The Gladiators scored the first two goals and three of the first four, the last of which Esmond finished after running from behind the net all the way to the right side of the goal. The score prompted Marriotts Ridge to call a timeout with about 13 minutes to play before halftime.
The Mustangs did pull within 4-3 on a strike from senior Jessie Burd (two goals), but the Gladiators responded with six unanswered before the break, the final two coming in the final 23 seconds of the period.
"We knew from the beginning of the season that we needed to come in and we needed to play confident," McSally said. "Marriotts Ridge is a great team — we've seen them in the past — and we wanted to come in and prove ourselves to them and get a big win."
Brady admitted it took some time for her team to adjust to the packed-in defense. But once it did, and her players started moving into open spots in the zone, Marriotts Ridge began finding scoring success. After going down, 11-3, the Mustangs rattled off four unanswered goals. Senior Hayleigh Simpson, who finished with four goals, led the charge, but Burd and Erin Cooke also got into the second-half scoring action.
Behind their contributions, Marriotts Ridge pulled within, 12-9, with about four minutes to play.
However, with the scoreboard and the game clock in Glenelg's favor, the Mustangs felt the need to pull their goalie out of net and use her as an extra defender. That left a wide open net for Esmond, who responded to her bouncing goal — the Gladiators' 13th of the night — by slamming her stick on the ground and letting out a joyous scream to celebrate the soon-to-be victory.