Howard County, MD — Senior midfielders Hayleigh Simpson and Sydney Bender usually take the draw for Marriotts Ridge girls lacrosse, not attacker Eloise Clevenger. She did not take many face-offs as a freshman last season, either.
But with the Mustangs trailing South River, 6-3, late in the first half on Tuesday night coach Amanda Brady felt the need to make a change in the circle. Clevenger made the most sense.
"They were coming in with the draw control, and there was a height difference," Brady said. "Once Eloise went in … I think the draws were in our favor. We didn't go back from there."
As Marriotts Ridge started to win face-offs in its eventual 15-11 triumph, they began stringing together unanswered goals and building momentum. That confidence then carried over to the defensive end, where it shut down South River with its increased defensive pressure.
These two factors ignited an 8-0 scoring run that helped the Mustangs overcome their second straight slow start and hand the Seahawks their first defeat of the season.
"It was definitely different," Clevenger said of assuming the role of face-off specialist. "I know that they were coming up with a lot of them, so I was trying really hard to come up with a few of them. I was trying to draw them to myself or get them over to Victoria [Hensh] because she's been coming up with a lot of them, too."
After winning the draw, Clevenger often doubled as the team's go-to scorer. That was especially the case to start the second half.
With Marriotts Ridge (8-1) facing an 8-5 halftime deficit, Clevenger scored 27 seconds in to the second period off a feed from junior Erin Cooke and added her second score of the frame less than four minutes later.
The game-tying goal came at the 18:44 mark and started with Clevenger holding possession at the top of the circle. She started to move right, then hopped back and darted towards the left side of the net. The defender trailing behind Clevenger could only look on as the sophomore attacker beat the goalkeeper to complete her second-half hat trick.
The Mustangs went on to score the next three goals and did not trail again.
"For Eloise, she's had a couple games where she is on the ground all the time," Brady said. "She's getting pushed around and she is holding her own, and I think that mental toughness for her is something that we're valuing, and obviously you can see it in the scoreboard.
Without Clevenger (five goals) and Simpson (six scores) leading the scoring barrage in the second half, Marriotts Ridge may not have been able to erase what was once a five-goal deficit.
In the opening stages of the game, the Mustangs had no answer for senior Madeline Cloyd, the reigning Capital Gazette girls Athlete of the Week, and Kathleen Sullivan. They were not pressuring South River (8-1) as heavily, allowing Kelsey Winters to find cutting teammates for point-blank shots on goal. Winters finished the game with two assists, while Cloyd and Sullivan scored four goals apiece. About five minutes before intermission, the Seahawks owned an 8-3 lead.
But for the next 16 minutes, coach Caroline Cochran's team went scoreless. Marriotts Ridge pulled with three goals by intermission and tied the score early in the second half.
Howard County Times: Top stories
And by the time South River ended its scoring drought with 13:05 to play, the Mustangs still maintained a two-goal advantage they would only build on before the final whistle.
"Our team showed up in the first half, and then Marriotts Ridge came back, and they wanted it more at that end," Cochran said. "They gave it to us in the second half and continued the whole way through and really played a great 50 minutes of lacrosse. Our team folded a little bit, and that's something we can work on in order to get better as the season goes on."
Marriotts Ridge (8-1) — 15, South River (8-1) — 11
Goals: MR — Hayleigh Simpson 6, Eloise Clevenger 5, Victoria Hensh 3, Katie Thompson; SR — Madeline Cloyd 4, Kathleen Sullivan 4, Morgan Carter, Alexis Grant, Lauren Zinkl.
Assists: MR — Jessie Burd, Eloise Clevenger, Erin Cooke, Gracie Kennedy; SR — Kelsey Winters 2, Lauren Zinkl.
Saves: MR — Olivia Ranta 6; SR — Carly Mansur 6
Halftime: 8-3, South River