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Drills, deflection make difference for Garrison Forest in IAAM field hockey semifinals

Garrison Forest field hockey coach Malcolm Belin had less than a week to solve a problem that threatened to keep his No. 2 Grizzlies out of title contention.

How to score against No. 5 McDonogh.

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In the days following last week’s scoreless tie against the Eagles, the first-year coach made a handful of subtle schematic changes and ran his team through countless hours of offensive drills.

In Friday’s Interscholastic Association of Maryland A Conference semifinals, however, it was a single deflection that made the difference in a 1-0 win.

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“A lot of scoring drills, a lot of positional types of things, but other than that, it was mostly just, ‘We know how to do it, so let’s just go out and do it,’” Belin said. “We knew what to do, we watched film. All we needed was one.”

That one, a deflection from sophomore Dani Mendez off a hard insert from senior Macy Miller with 20:31 left in regulation, sent the Grizzlies (15-3-1) into Sunday’s A Conference final against top-ranked Archbishop Spalding, a 2-0 winner over No. 9 Notre Dame Prep in the other semifinal. The game is scheduled for noon at Stevenson University.

Garrison will be shooting for its first championship since finishing a run of three straight in 2012.

McDonogh Eagles midfielder Kori Edmondson (14) turns away as Garrison Forest Grizzlies forward Ella Kokinis (23) celebrates the game's only goal, scored by forward/midfielder Dani Mendez (right) against the McDonogh Eagles during the 2019 IAAM field hockey semifinals Fri., Nov. 1, 2019.
McDonogh Eagles midfielder Kori Edmondson (14) turns away as Garrison Forest Grizzlies forward Ella Kokinis (23) celebrates the game's only goal, scored by forward/midfielder Dani Mendez (right) against the McDonogh Eagles during the 2019 IAAM field hockey semifinals Fri., Nov. 1, 2019. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

To get there, the Grizzlies first had to find a way to score against McDonogh’s stingy defense, anchored by standout goalie Liv Geoghan (six saves). All told, the Eagles’ defense held Garrison — which boasts the league’s most prolific offense — without a goal for nearly 170 minutes over three games, including 110 in just the past week.

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That streak ended 9:29 into the second half, when Mendez finished the only one of her team’s nine penalty corners.

“We’ve been practicing this type of corner for a couple days, trying to get it to perfection,” Mendez said. “Macy sent it in with a hard ball, and I was just low. I had my stick down and was ready for a deflection.”

The play was a direct result of drills the Grizzlies had focused on all week in practice.

“We’ve been working really hard in practice just trying to get more tips, because we’ve had a lot of trouble getting rebounds, especially against this goalie,” Miller said. “We were practicing sending in hard balls and just getting the deflections.”

McDonogh (10-8-2) also had a handful of chances, particularly in the first half when a long shot from Ally Pitts rolled just wide right and Jillian Ansell followed minutes later with a hard shot that went in, but was disallowed because it was taken outside the circle.

Eagles coach Denise Wolf said adjustments designed to improve clears and get better looks off corners helped keep her team in strong contention, particularly in a back-and-forth first half.

“I’m just proud of seeing where we are at this point as a team,” Wolf said. “Sad to see it end.”

Belin said he felt a sense of relief when Garrison finally managed to hit the back of the cage, especially following last week’s 0-0 tie in which the Grizzlies dominated, but time and again failed to cash in.

“I’ve had nightmares about the other game,” Belin said, “so this one felt good.”

Goals: GF-Mendez. Assists: GF-Miller. Saves: M-Geoghan 6 ; GF-Klebasko 1. Half: Tied, 0-0.

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