Whichever team maintained the most confidence, Centennial field hockey coach Gail Purcell predicted beforehand, would have an excellent shot at winning.
Her Eagles responded by frustrating Wilde Lake with double-digit advantages in every major offensive category yesterday, using Emily Ward's first-half goal for a 1-0 victory and a Howard County title.
Centennial (8-3-1, 6-1) earned its first county title since 1990 and fourth in Purcell's 17 years. Wilde Lake (7-4-1, 5-2) will share second place with Hammond, a 1-0 loser to Oakland Mills.
"It's very hard in hockey to be on the defensive constantly and not lose a little self-confidence," Purcell said of the Wildecats. "Like I said in the beginning, I felt the team controlling the confidence level of the game would come out on top."
She added that she couldn't help but feel lucky about being the county's top team.
"In hockey, any team can beat any team, so because Oakland Mills knocked [Hammond] off, the luck was in our favor," she said.
In the Wildecats' case, the fact that they came so close after a 2-10 1992 season and a last-place county finish made coach Karen Doerrler proud.
"I'm very happy with the way we played," she said. "With our season in general, it's been a success for us. To go from last place to second, that's pretty good."
Despite a slow start, Centennial's offense ended up superior in shots (21-4), free hits (10-0) and penalty corners (12-2).
Right link Katrina Wolfe, left inner Abbey Forbes, forward Chantal Loomis and Ward, a right wing, applied a lot of the pressure on goalie Krista Entrop, who held her own with nine saves.
"They have some very strong players who move to the ball and get the ball," Doerrler said. "We were a little hesitant in moving to the ball. They beat us to it."
In the playoffs that begin Monday, Centennial will play host to Mount Hebron in the Class 3A West Region, while Wilde Lake will visit Poolesville in Montgomery County in the Class 1A West Region.
Wilde Lake opened with a few quick flurries, but Centennial dominated thereafter, building first-half cushions in shots (9-2), free hits (5-0) and penalty corners (5-0).
The Wildecats had trouble penetrating the defensive line of Stefanie Schneider, Karyn Bruns, Kari Jones, Krista Maizel and sweeper Kim May, all of whom shielded goalie Becca Armiger (three saves) from threats.
Nevertheless, the Eagles needed a bit of luck to score with 5:00 left in the half. Ward, positioned at point-blank range in the striking circle, launched a shot that deflected off a defender's knee and past Entrop's right side. Left wing Liz Sturm got the assist.
Karen Sutton, the Wildecats' leading scorer, and starting goalie Jayme Kantor didn't play because of injuries suffered in a car accident.
"Today, we were really focused," said Wolfe, the Eagles' leading scorer. "I had an off game, but the team picked me up. They
were so focused that they really inspired me."
Oakland Mills 1, Hammond 0
Kathy Hurley scored the winning goal to lift Oakland Mills (4-7-1) past Hammond (8-4). Kelly Naylor made seven saves for the Scorpions.