Northern 3, Great Mills 0

Last season, Northern forward Brittany Horak was primarily a junior varsity player, and when she got a chance to join the varsity field hockey team, it was usually to sit on the bench.

A year later, Horak is a focal point of the Northern offense, leading the team in scoring. And she's a big reason why the Patriots (15-1) believe they can surpass the success of last season's state semifinalists.

On Tuesday afternoon in Northern's 3A South Region semifinal game against Great Mills, Horak was at the forefront of the attack again, scoring a pair of goals in the second half as the Patriots stormed into today's region final with a 3-0 win.

"I've been scoring a lot more than I anticipated," said Horak, who raised her goal total to 19. "I'm pushing myself harder this year in practice and games, and I care more about it. I'm not the fastest out there, but I have a good ability to score."

Against Great Mills (7-7), Northern began on the defensive as the Hornets made a strong offensive push but were held in check by an unwavering Patriots defense. Eventually, Northern's offense began asserting itself and finally broke on top when midfielder Bailey Gronbeck's long pass found forward Lauren Smith alone on the far post for an easy tap-in and a 1-0 lead.

Although Great Mills goalie Anne Anderson made many quality saves in the early stages of the second half, Northern's attack was relentless. Horak netted her first goal eight minutes into the half, burying a short-range shot off a rebound from a shot by Samantha Calaianni. She scored again off an assist from Stephanie Lloyd with just over seven minutes to play, sealing the victory.

"When we play the better teams, we can't slack like we did today," Gronbeck said of the way the Patriots started the game. "We want to be regional champs again, and we want to go all the way to states and win it."

A state championship would require Northern to go two steps further than last season, when the Patriots fell in the state semifinals to eventual champion Bethesda-Chevy Chase. With the increased production from Horak and the continued steady play of her teammates, the Patriots believe they have the pieces to do it.

"We're just stuck on getting to states," Horak said. "If we win states, that would be awesome, but we're going to keep setting our bar high."

For the senior-laden Hornets, the loss ends a season that began with high hopes. The Hornets had stretches of strong play but struggled to find consistency. In three games against Northern, they managed only three shots on goal, and, except for an early flurry and some pressure in the closing minutes of Tuesday's game, they never consistently pressured the Patriots' defense.

"We didn't win as many games as I would have liked," Great Mills Coach Michelle Richmond said. "Toward the end of the season, we played a lot more to the way I wanted us to play all year. We just weren't very consistent this season. Sometimes we show up, and sometimes we don't."

Northern's Brittany Horak (14) scores against Great Mills's Kira Wilpone-Jordan, left, and Lauren Smith.