For all the great history and offensive power that Severna Park possesses, the Falcons were fortunate to have another weapon Wednesday night: a stone wall.
Goalie Cait Coletti stopped two penalty strokes within a two-minute span to preserve a one-goal lead and give the third-ranked Falcons a 2-1 victory over visiting and top-ranked South River (15-2) in the Class 4A East regional championship game.
Severna Park (16-1-1) will play Wednesday in the state semifinals at Franklin High in Reisterstown. The Falcons have won 19 state titles in field hockey, including the past five straight.
The first shot came off the stick of the Seahawks' Stacey Mackintosh, and Coletti, a senior, made the save off her leg pad. The second one was taken by Emma Leonard; Coletti stopped the high shot with her arm pad.
"I just cleared my head and told myself that I had to stop this," Coletti said of the first stroke. "The second one was the same way. I guessed that she might go left, and she did."
The Seahawks peppered the goal with shots in the final 10 minutes, but Coletti was up to the challenge each time.
"That's not something you can teach," Severna Park coach Lil Shelton of Coletti's mental preparation. "You either have it or you don't. Cait has the 'grrr'. She's ready."
Severna Park took the lead 13:28 into the game. After a corner, Falcons senior Kendyl Gardner found herself the recipient of a pass across the mouth of the goal. She corralled the pass and tipped the ball into the open net.
The Seahawks didn't panic, gradually turning up the pressure and forcing Coletti to make several key saves. South River's effort finally paid off with 14:10 elapsed in the first half. After a scramble in front of the goal, Jennie Milligan tipped the ball past Coletti.
Severna Park got the lead back for good 10:50 into the second half. Falcons senior Madeline Ross took a pass at the top of the circle on a corner and fired toward the left part of the cage. Sophomore Marissa Balleza tipped the ball past Seahawks goalie Shannon Flanagan.
"When Madeline shot it, I just knew it was coming to me and I knew it was in," Balleza said. "It came down to who wanted it more, and it was us."
Said Coletti, who has stopped four regulation penalty strokes this season: "It only takes one shot to make or break our season. When Marissa scored, I just thought, 'Thank you, Marissa'. Then I knew it was my turn to step up."
Goals: SR—Milligan; SP—Gardner, Balleza. Assists: SP—Ross. Saves: SR—Flanagan 9; SP—Coletti 15. Half: 1-1.