Shelby Mercer and her Century field hockey teammates needed only the motivation of a county championship to refocus Monday as they came off a loss that ended a nine-game winning streak.
Knocking off No. 10 Westminster, which had won the past two county titles and six of seven overall, took precedence over everything else. So the No. 9 Knights started with a high level of intensity and held it throughout most of the game, beating the Owls, 2-1, to clinch the county title.
Century (10-2-1, 6-0 county) handed Westminster (10-1-2, 5-1) its first loss of the season.
“We brought the girls in at the very beginning … and we were like, ‘We know this game is important. We know they're good. We need to come out our strongest and we can't take them lightly,'” said Mercer, who scored twice. “We didn't take it lightly, and I thought that was great.”
Both of Mercer's goals came on penalty-corner chances — Century had 16 tries to Westminster's eight — and the second came unassisted after she blasted a shot from the top of the circle seven minutes into the second half.
The Owls got a goal back with 13:47 remaining when Tori McDonald found Mackenzie Tarlow on a penalty corner.
But Westminster couldn't find the equalizer, and its 10-game winning streak ended despite eight saves from senior goaltender Hailey Poisal and sturdy play from the defense. Owls coach Mary Rivera said the game was decided in the first half, when Century's players beat Westminster's to the ball on nearly every possession and piled up scoring chances.
“We came out flat. It took a long, long time. Obviously, too long,” Rivera said. “The last 15 minutes of the game, they got pumped up. They started seeing some stuff … but that's how the whole game should go.”
Century used its speed to gain the early edge, then buckled down on defense once Westminster found its rhythm. Knights coach Terry Duryea implored her players to settle down in the second half, knowing the lead wasn't safe enough without using as much clock as possible.
“In the second half, when it's a differential of one goal, the people start to get flustered. They start clumping, they start fouling,” Duryea said. “It's just a matter of: ‘Just settle down and you'll be fine. Just play.'”
The Knights posed for pictures below the scoreboard after the game to celebrate their first county crown since 2011. Westminster and Century have combined to win the past nine county titles.
Of course, there are more titles to be had in the next month or so, as the regional playoffs begin next week. Century is the reigning Class 2A state champion; Westminster has 23 regional titles, tied for the third most in state history.
“We don't need [county titles] to win a playoff game,” Rivera said. “We don't need counties to win a regional. ... It's pretty much bragging rights. And other than that, it's not something we need to have a successful season.”
Goals: W — Tarlow; C — Mercer 2. Assists: W — McDonald; C — Donoghue. Saves: W — Poisal 8; C — Pluta 4. Half: Century, 1-0.