Centennial's hope of a Howard County field hockey title depended on the outcome of sudden-death overtime yesterday against visiting Hammond, and Eagles junior forward Emily Ward scored the game-winner three minutes into the extra period for a 1-0 win.
"We knew coming in it would be all over if we lost. And when one of our starters couldn't show up and a few others were bothered by asthma, it didn't look real good," Centennial coach Gail Purcell said.
"But once we got to overtime, I was sure we had it because my girls were just so hungry and focused on winning. Plus, they wanted a little revenge because Hammond beat us last year to knock us out of the county title race."
In overtime, 15th-ranked Centennial quickly established ball control and earned three corner shots.
It was off the third corner shot that Ward, standing by the right goal post, was in perfect position to score when Abbey Forbes' shot from in front of the goal bounced off senior goalie Darcy Pietryka (seven saves) right to Ward's stick.
With a quick flick of the wrist, Ward ended Centennial's must-win game and started a pile of Eagles players by the goal.
"After doing so well against them yesterday, we thought we were going to do just as well today," said Ward, referring to Thursday's game against Hammond that was postponed by heavy rain after nine minutes.
"By the time we got to the second half, we suddenly realized we really had to win this game."
Centennial (6-3-1, 4-1), rebounding from Tuesday's 1-0 loss to Glenelg, can control its destiny in the county race. Hammond (6-3, 4-1), with three games next week, must recover from a near-flawless performance to stay focused on regional and state title hopes.
"My girls are devastated because they played the best game they've played all season and still lost," Hammond coach Gay Petrlik said. "But we had some good shots. We had a few good flurries but just couldn't get anything to go in."
Hammond dominated the first half with four shots on goal as a result of a 6-0 advantage over Centennial in corner shots.
"Big athletes usually stand out when you go to six-on-six [in overtime], and Katrina [Wolfe] is certainly one of those type players," Petrlik said, referring to the rule that reduces the field lineup from 10 players in order to open up offensive opportunities.
Hammond's best chance to break the tie came midway through the second half, when senior forward Alicia Paul found herself with no defenders between her and sophomore goalie Becca Armiger (three saves). Paul fired a shot just as Armiger charged toward her, but the ball sailed wide right of the goal.
Aiding Hammond's veteran defense were seniors Sara Tiner (25 steals) and Becca Mier (26 steals). Pietryka recorded several last-minute saves to force the overtime.
"We really played an excellent game coast-to-coast, and Darcy did a really good job. That goal was just one of those things that happens," Petrlik said.