After pounding against No. 14 Hereford's packed-in defense for 74 minutes, No. 8 Franklin had just about worn out.
Sara Gustafson didn't think she had much strength left until wing Erin Watson passed her the ball in the middle. The sophomore striker dragged it past Bulls sweeper Kristy Kane and nailed a grounder into the left corner of the net giving the Indians a 1-0 victory in a Baltimore County Division I game yesterday.
"I was just exhausted," said Gustafson, Baltimore County's scoring leader with 20 goals and seven assists. "Right before [Watson] had the ball, I was like I've got to go one more time, because if you keep going hard then one time it will come through. My shot almost went wide, but I was lucky. It bounced the right way."
The Indians (7-1 overall, 3-1 league) outshot the visiting Bulls 14-4, but Hereford's defense kept the game close. All-Metro keeper Kate Macfarlane made eight saves, but Kane, Alice Davis, Adrienne Allen and Brooke Lang did just as much to hold off the Indians.
Davis saved an almost certain goal midway through the second half when she kicked the ball away from Gustafson racing through the middle as Macfarlane came out to play her.
The Indians put a lot of pressure on Hereford with sweeper Amy Miller, stopper Alison Palguta and center back Heidi Shaneybrook up the middle as well as with Kate Citroni and Kara Wingate on the outside.
Franklin coach George Wagner knew the Indians probably would have few good chances against a Bulls defense that has allowed just nine goals in eight games.
"With their defense, they just jam up the box on all throw-ins and all corner kicks, so we tried to counter by loading it up ourselves," said Wagner. "I kept yelling to the kids to play back, wait for the ball to come back out of that and then go forward with it. That's what Sara did."
For the Bulls (4-4, 1-4), offense is the missing link. They have won every game in which they've scored, but they haven't scored a goal against a ranked team, falling 1-0 to No. 6 Dulaney and No. 10 Perry Hall and 3-0 to No. 7 Loch Raven.
"There are choices that you make," said Hereford coach Steve Power. "One of which is that we play the girls in the positions where they can help us the most, so we have some quality backs. Our dilemma is to find the person who can score when the pressure's there. We have to have one more player step up on the offense."
While the Bulls are out of the race, the Indians hope to force at least a tie for the division title. If they can beat Loch Raven tomorrow and Loch Raven can beat Dulaney next week, the division race could end in a three-way tie.