As last year’s Class 4A-3A state champion, Bel Air’s girls lacrosse team knew every opponent wanted that win over the champs.
Towson came close to dethroning the Bobcats on Wednesday, but Lauren Asher connected with Grace Wheland cutting down the middle for the winning goal with 48 seconds left to give the Bobcats a 14-13 victory over the Generals in the Class 3A North regional final.
With the state tournament expanding to four classifications this year, the Bobcats (14-2) advance to meet Westminster in the state semifinals Friday night or Saturday at Mount Hebron. Westminster defeated Frederick, 20-7, for the West Region title.
Coming off the first state championship in program history, the Bobcats returned all but three starters, so they’ve had high hopes to win again from early in the season. They realized, however, that it wouldn’t be easy.
Senior midfielder Elizabeth Hillman said the Bobcats talked about that from Day One.
“At one of our first practices after tryouts we said, ‘We have a target on our back this whole season because of how far we went last year and what we did. Every single team will be playing us like it’s their state championship game, because to them it is.’ So I do think my team did a very good job of staying humble and having a chip on our shoulder but also understanding that we’re getting everyone’s best game and I think we really rose to the occasion,” Hillman said.
They certainly did against visiting Towson.
The Generals, who won their only state title in 1997, ran up a 7-3 lead thanks in part to controlling six of the first 10 draws. Freshman Natalie Sann won four of those and finished with nine draw controls.
Erin Steinberg’s free-position goal broke a tie at 3 and the Generals added goals from Sofie Sorteberg, Sann and Anna Corona to lead 7-3 with 6:02 left in the first half.
Bel Air, however, rallied with four goals in the final 2:51 to tie it at the half. Julia Henry and Maggie Hall scored extra-man goals after Sann picked up a yellow card. Hall then brought the Bobcats within one with 29.9 seconds left.
Although Sann won the next draw, the Bobcats forced a turnover. Hillman won the hotly contested ground ball and went hard to the goal to tie at 7 with 7.9 seconds left in the half.
“You’ve got to give credit to Bel Air. They adjusted very well in the circle,” Towson coach Jamie Giffuni said. “It’s hard to beat Elizabeth Hillman. She did a great job of turning it on and they were just a little bit better in the second half.”
Still, with only three seniors in the starting lineup, the Generals pushed Bel Air to the final buzzer.
In the second half, the game was tied four times. Caroline Fallace’s free-position goal gave the Bobcats the only two-goal lead of the half, 12-10, with 13:11 to go, but the Generals (11-3) rallied with three straight.
Sorteberg and Sofia Grose scored extra-man goals after Hillman picked up a yellow card. Erin Steinberg then gave Towson the lead on a free-position goal with 4:07 to go.
Henry put the finishing touch on a five-goal, one-assist performance by bouncing in a free-position shot to tie at 13 with 1:32 left.
The Bobcats, who use multiple players on the draw, found their best success against Towson with Anna McQuay, and the Generals had just a 16-13 edge in draw controls. Asher, however, won the two most important ones — before and after Wheland’s game-winner.
Bel Air coach Kristen Barry said she wasn’t worried that there were 48 seconds left after that goal.
“You look for the best opportunity to shoot and you can’t wait for it to be 0,” she said. “You have to have faith that you take the best shot available, make it and you go back to the circle and win the draw and even if you don’t, you have faith in your defense that they can come through.”
Goals: T—Steinberg 3, Osmeyer 2, Hartman 2, Sorteberg 2, Sann, Corona, Briglio, Grose; BA—Henry 5, Wehland 2, M.Hall 2, Hillman 2, Asher, Trzeciak, Fallace. Assists: T—Sann, Sorteberg, Osmeyer; BA—M.Hall, Fallace, Henry, Asher. Saves: T—Ready 9; BA—Patrick 4. Half: 7-7.