North Carroll midfielder Jill Pyzik picked an opportune time to score her first goal of the year.
The senior's effort eight minutes into the second half last night proved to be the difference, as the Panthers hung on to beat host Liberty, 2-1, in the Class 3A West playoff opener.
North Carroll (8-5-2) advanced to next week's second round, where it will meet Montgomery County's Albert Einstein, owner of a first-round bye, either Tuesday or Wednesday.
In a game in which the Panthers were outshot, 11-7, Pyzik's fortuitous goal made the difference.
Teammate Erin Lamotte sent a long pass to Pyzik, who was running toward the box. Almost directly in front of Liberty goalie Becky Webster, the ball deflected off Pyzik's knee, past the screened keeper.
"It all happened so fast. I just ran to it and it went in," said Pyzik. "It just kind of curved around and hit off my knee."
Still, it was a much improved effort from Liberty, which two weeks ago lost to North Carroll, 3-1.
The Lions (7-7-1) struck first yesterday, taking a 1-0 lead 14: 43 into the game, when Meagan Voight, standing near the far corner, sent a cross to the middle, where Michelle Allen got a leg on it to knock it in.
Nine minutes later, North Carroll tied it up.
With the ball bouncing around the goal-mouth, North Carroll's Heather Tomko knocked it off the bottom of the crossbar and into the goal.
Later, trailing, 2-1, Liberty came within inches of tying the score, when Becky Podobnik sent a hard liner that hit the crossbar but rolled out of scoring distance.
"The first half, I thought we dominated," said Liberty coach Victor Aulestia. "The second half, I think we deflated a little when they scored that second goal."
Facing a Lions' offense that had wracked up the second highest goal total in the Central Maryland Conference's regular season, the Panthers' defense had few chances to relax.
"We just kept on saying, 'Get the ball out, get the ball out,' " said North Carroll defender Jen Lee.
Now, the task for the Panthers turns to Einstein, with the objective of at least repeating last season's accomplishment of advancing to the state final.