With three minutes to play in Tuesday's 3A South Region first-round playoff game against Chopticon, McDonough field hockey player Melissa Hoko slowly limped off her home field.

When she got to the Rams' sideline, the senior forward slumped onto her team's bench and peeled off her right shoe. With her face scrunched up, Hoko delicately inspected the damage an errant stick had caused to an already tender ankle. A few minutes and an ice pack later, however, the pain in Hoko's ankle had subsided. The hurt she put on Chopticon earlier in the game had not.

Hoko scored two goals, her sixth and seventh of the season, to give McDonough a 2-0 victory and a quarterfinal date with Northern, the top-seeded team in the region, today.

"A couple games before, I went over on [my ankle], so it was already really sore," Hoko said. "But I should be fine. I'm icing it."

The Rams will need Hoko, and another solid team effort, to have a chance against a powerful Northern team that beat them, 3-0, in the regular season.

"It's going to be a tough game," McDonough Coach Jen Smith said. "They're a really tough team, and my team has to come to play."

McDonough was ready to play Tuesday and took a commanding two-goal lead on its first shot of the second half. After a restart from the right flank, Hoko rocketed a pass from senior Holly Bryant into the left side of the Braves' cage. The tally, which came 6:19 into the second half, gave the Rams the type of breathing room they have seldom had this season.

"We've had a tough time scoring this year," said Smith, whose team improved to 5-7 on the season. "We get the ball up there, but it's either wide or we shoot it right on the goalie's pads. It's been a learning experience this year."

It seemed as though a lack of scoring punch might haunt McDonough early. The Rams dominated possession in the first half but did not capitalize until Hoko slapped in a rebound with 7:18 remaining.

The Rams held a 10-1 advantage in penalty corners and outshot the Braves, 14-12, including 6-1 in the game's first 15 minutes.

McDonough junior goalkeeper Heather Kick made six saves to earn the shutout. Sophomore sweeper Sarah Fullerton keyed the Rams' transition game with her low, controlled hits and stymied Chopticon's offense before it got started. Whenever the Braves sent the ball to their forwards, Fullerton was there. The few times she misplayed a ball, she used her considerable speed to chase it down and win it back.

"She plays ice hockey, so she just knows where she needs to be on the field," Smith said. "She's really athletic. She just anticipates, and she's usually correct."

Fullerton, who is in her first year on McDonough's varsity, and the rest of the Rams now have another shot at Northern.

"If we work really hard and play like we did today, I think we can beat them," Fullerton said.

Chopticon finished a frustrating season with a record of 5-8. The Braves lost five games by one goal, including two in overtime.

"Our record doesn't show what we were capable of," Chopticon Coach Anne Vallandingham said.