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Dani Mendez leads No. 3 Garrison Forest field hockey to 2-1 win over No. 15 McDonogh

The Garrison Forest field hockey team spent its weekend competing on the grandest of national stages, traveling to the Philadelphia suburbs to square off against some of the sport’s elite at the MAX Field Hockey National High School Invitational. That said, you can forgive the Grizzlies for their first three-game losing streak in more than a decade.

Of course, you also can’t blame them for making certain that streak came to an abrupt halt Tuesday night against No. 15 McDonogh.

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Senior midfielder Dani Mendez scored off a first-half corner, then set up the winning goal when her shot ricocheted in front, where teammate Lauren Widdowson hit it in with 2 minutes, 44 seconds left in regulation, as No. 3 Garrison Forest escaped the upset-minded host Eagles in an Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference game.

For Garrison Forest (5-4 overall, 3-0 conference), the win was anything but pretty, but it was a win, nonetheless.

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“When you lose three in a row, you definitely want to come out and reestablish that we are at the top of the IAAM,” Grizzlies coach Malcolm Belin said. “It was definitely nice to come home and reestablish ourselves.”

But this wasn’t didn’t come easily.

After falling behind early, McDonogh (3-2, 1-2) looked every bit Garrison Forest’s equal in the second half, using its sheer athleticism to win balls and send them downfield. The Eagles tied the game on Kori Edmondson’s penalty stroke with 5:06 left in the third quarter, then came close to taking the lead on several occasions.

“There was a lot of buy-in from this weekend’s practice going into this game. The girls knew the system going in, and we stuck to our game plan,” McDonogh coach Eva Winiarski said. “The girls got out there and, honestly, just had a lot of fun, and that showed.

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“A ton of [our players] are three-sport athletes, so the athleticism is there, the hand-eye coordination is there, the collaboration on the field is all there. We are a very good team. We were finally matching our intensity to how we play.”

Garrison Forest midfielder Dani Mendez, pictured against Spalding in November 2019, led the Grizzlies to a 2-1 win over McDonogh on Tuesday.
Garrison Forest midfielder Dani Mendez, pictured against Spalding in November 2019, led the Grizzlies to a 2-1 win over McDonogh on Tuesday. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

In the end, however, this was Garrison Forest’s game, with the Grizzlies’ tight pressure defense forcing a turnover that led to the final goal.

“The defender tried to outlet into the center, and I got the ball by running to it,” Mendez said. “Then I was running full force and tried to take a shot. Lauren Widdowson, our right forward, tipped it in over the goalie.”

Mendez, a University of Virginia-signee and member of the 2020 U.S. U-16 Women’s National Team, said the intense weekend competition may have actually been a positive, even without a win. The Grizzlies dropped close games to a pair of nationally-ranked teams, losing by a goal each to No. 7 Hill School (Pottstown, Pennsylvania) and No. 13 West Essex Regional High School (Caldwell, New Jersey), and by two to Conestoga High (Berwyn, Pennsylvania).

“I felt like [the tournament] kept us going and kept us prepared, on our toes,” Mendez said. “So I felt like we were very ready for this game. We had a lot of grit and a lot of heart.”

No. 3 Garrison Forest 2, No. 15 McDonogh 1

Goals: GF — Mendez, Widdowson; M —Edmondson

Saves: GF — Klebasko 6; M — Busse 2

Half: Garrison Forest, 1-0

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