Befitting a squad that resurrected its season after being 1-9-1, the Fauquier field hockey team did its best work near the end of Friday's Jefferson District semifinal after falling behind by a goal against No. 1 seed Western Albemarle.
In the final two minutes, the Falcons earned three penalty corners and a long hit that seemed sure to produce at least one scoring chance. But the Warriors defense would not allow a clean shot on goal, and Fauquier left Charlottesville High School with a season-ending, 1-0 loss.
"We had opportunity," Falcons Coach Linda Lee said, "and that's all you can ask for."
Fourth-seed Fauquier (7-10-1) brought a six-game win streak into Friday's semifinal -- pushed back from Thursday because of rain -- and held strong against Western in the first half. About two minutes into the second half, though, the Falcons had what Lee called a "mental lapse," and Warriors forward Liz Pierce took advantage, emerging from a cluster of players in front of the Fauquier goal to poke the ball past goalie Brittany Mountjoy.
"We were a little asleep when we came out for the second half," Falcons senior Kate Evans said.
They couldn't get much going for most of the half, but after a timeout with seven minutes remaining, Lee re-inserted a handful of starters who had been resting on the bench. That move energized the team down the stretch, but none of the four chances near the end materialized fully, including two by Evans.
"I thought if Kate had been able to get off a shot, it might have been different," Lee said, pointing to Evans's final attempt as the best scoring opportunity because "she had such a clean stop, and the defense was late getting out."
Fauquier also was left ruing the opportunity missed 11 minutes 15 seconds before halftime when Porter Watkins's shot off a penalty corner bounced off the right post. Many players on both teams seemed to lose sight of the ball and froze for a moment, leaving the rebound unattended for a second or two, but the Warriors recovered to clear the threat.
Despite the loss, the Falcons spoke after the game of the pride they took in salvaging a season that had them winless through the first six games.
"We all turned it around and showed our game on the field," Falcons senior Krystal Pittelkau said. "We became one on the field, which makes me proud to be on the team."
Said Lee: "They could have given excuses, and some of them could have quit, or they could have just decided to put in their time and put an end to a miserable season, but they didn't do that. Even being 1-9-1, we were making progress every day."
As the team hit the mid-point of the district schedule, still languishing, Lee and the players discussed the need to "turn the corner" if they were going to have any chance to contend for a spot in the playoffs. From that point, Fauquier didn't lose a game until Friday, thriving on its more customary aggressive style instead of the more conservative tactics incorporated early in the season to accommodate several new players.
"I'm really proud of them," Lee said. "You know, I've never really had a team that has come this far within a season. . . . I hope that we'll be able to start off on a more positive note next year."