Mount Hebron goalkeeper Ali True picked a fine time to play the game of her life.
Rarely have the top-ranked Vikings needed True the way they needed her last night in the Class 1A-2A championship game at Catonsville Community College.
But with Hebron's high-powered offense stuck in low gear against a resolute Loch Raven defense, True stepped to center stage to make 18 saves, including 14 in a superb second half, to lead Hebron to 9-7 victory over the Raiders.
The victory capped Hebron's second straight state championship and its second consecutive 18-0 season.
The long-awaited state-title rematch with Loch Raven bore no resemblance to last year's 15-10 victory by the Vikings. Both teams entered the game averaging 19 goals, but defense dictated the action last night.
This time, Loch Raven (17-1) was ready with a quicker, better-prepared defense that neutralized Hebron's tendency to score in bunches. The Raiders stopped Hebron's crease rolls, forced the Vikings to make impatient passes, and held them to three goals in the second half. Meanwhile, Loch Raven outshot the Vikings, 32-24, including 21-8 in the second half, when the Raiders controlled the ball for about two-thirds of the half.
And yet, the Raiders never led and could not overcome True, who showed why she is headed to Temple on a lacrosse scholarship.
True stopped four free-position shots from eight meters away by the Raiders.
In the final 10 minutes, after Hebron had taken a 9-5 lead, she produced four key saves, including a kick save on a free shot by Loch Raven's leading scorer, Michele DeJuliis, with 1:20 left.
"I think it was more of a whole defensive effort, but I was on the ball," said True, who said an excellent pregame warm-up helped her prepare.
"We all needed to work really hard today," she said.
"I knew Loch Raven believed in themselves and felt they were going to win. I knew it was going to be our hardest game of the year. Once I pick up my rhythm, I don't think about anything else but focusing on the ball."
Hebron coach P. J. Kesmodel said: "If you get into a close game, the difference is the goaltender. Ali was phenomenal today. Loch Raven is a great team, and [coach] Wendy [Galinn] had them prepared. They stopped the things we wanted to do, and they played hard the whole game.
"I kept thinking we were going to break it open, but we never got over the hump," he added.
"Our offense kept turning the ball over, we weren't patient, we weren't shooting well, but our defense played great. I shouldn't be picky, because I'm so happy that we won. We just did the toughest thing in sports, to come back and win two [championships] in a row."
With both defenses frustrating each other's attack, the title came down to which team would take advantage of its rare high-percentage chances.
Hebron won that battle by converting four free-position shots after drawing fouls on drives to the Loch Raven goal.
The Raiders may have lost the game in the first half, when they won the first four draws, yet got only one shot out of them, while turning the ball over the other three times. After Loch Raven squandered those opportunities, Hebron made its chances count. Cathy Nelson, the Vikings' leading scorer who led the way with four goals and two assists, scored on two penalty shots to give the Vikings a 2-0 lead 10 minutes into the game.
The Vikings made it 4-0 with 6:52 left in the half on goals by Nelson and Amy Fine (two goals), before the Raiders came alive and pulled to 6-3 at the half on the first of DeJuliis two goals with a minute left.
Loch Raven cut the lead to 6-4 on a goal by Heather Kormanik 45 seconds into the half.
Midway through the second half with the score 7-5, Stacia Heburn -- who checked DeJuliis on defense -- and Nelson scored on free-position shots to make it 9-5 with 11:56 left.
From there, Hebron held on while the Raiders made a determined run. Klaes scored with 8:25 left to make it 9-6. DeJuliis cut the lead to 9-7 with 1:38 to go.
Otherwise, Loch Raven ran into True too much to dethrone the Vikings.
"We basically lost it in the midfield transition. We had some mental breakdowns, and we had a hard time passing and catching at times. You can't do that against this [Hebron] team," Galinn said.
"We couldn't get that little ball in that big cage."