North Carroll field hockey coach Denean Koontz crossed up previously unbeaten and second-ranked Westminster last night with a short passing game to prevent the Owls from clinching the Carroll County championship.
Koontz employed the short game instead of the long drives the seventh-ranked Panthers had been noted for this season and the strategy paid off with a 2-0 victory at Westminster.
The upset not only halted an Owls' victory party but it pushed North Carroll (6-1-2 overall, 4-1-1 in the county) a half-game ahead of Westminster (7-1, 3-1) in the county standings with one game left for each team against Liberty.
If both teams knock off the Lions, North Carroll would technically win the title. But Westminster could claim an injustice because it only plays five county games to North Carroll's seven.
Desperately needing a victory last night after losing a 2-1 thriller in overtime to Westminster six days ago, Koontz and North Carroll sprang a crisp and effective short passing game on the Owls. It obviously caught Westminster off guard and North Carroll took the game to the Owls for the entire 50 minutes and was still pressing for more goals in the final four minutes.
Even though their 2-0 lead was secure with a little less than five minutes left after Westminster failed to convert on three straight corner opportunities, the Panthers fired off four shots in the final minutes.
Westminster co-coach Sue Hooper said: "This was a different North Carroll team from the one we played last week. They were using the short passes against us and they played it perfectly the entire game. In the last game we played them, they were driving the ball more. It certainly was a different look for us."
Koontz said her players carried out the short game without a hitch and everyone was a star.
"The entire team was tremendous for us," she said. "We supported each other well. We went to the ball and we covered the entire field. Jill Ballard had a great game, going from one end of the field on defense to the other on offense."
North Carroll needed just 8:26 to get on the scoreboard, with Laura Kreseski scoring from five yards out off a pass from Valerie Aberts.
The Panthers threatened to add to their lead in the first half but didn't score again until more than five minutes into the second half.
This time it was Amy Heffner scoring on a perfect short pass from Kreseski for a 2-0 lead.
Midway through the second half, Westminster made its biggest run at the Panthers with a series of shots off corners. But each time the North Carroll defense was aggressive in going to the ball and halting the Owls.