Patuxent 1, Glenelg 0
Moments after her team's 1-0 field hockey victory over Glenelg in the 2A South Region final Thursday, Patuxent's Tasha Klares squeezed her way out from the throng of fans that had rushed the field and jumped into the arms of Coach Lynn Powell.
"Coach, we're finally going to states," the senior midfielder said under the clamor of cheers in the background.
Klares had waited three years to utter those words to Powell. After the second-place league finish in 2003 and the disappointment of losing to South River in last year's regional final, the program's first regional title was everything the coach and player had envisioned.
Next up: a date with defending 2A champion Hereford at 2:45 p.m. Wednesday at South River High.
The Panthers got there by surviving two tense overtime periods and a penalty-stroke shootout against Glenelg, last year's 2A runner-up. Appropriately, it was Klares who finished it, nailing the third and final penalty stroke for the Panthers with a perfectly placed chip into the top left corner of the cage that triggered a frenzied on-field celebration by players and fans.
"We don't do strokes during the regular season, so it was a lot of mind over matter out there," Powell said. "This is so big for our school because we don't have a regional banner for field hockey. We've come a long way, really quick. This is what I wanted for this team so bad."
Powell privately wondered beforehand how her team would show up for a game of such magnitude. The Panthers have only four seniors, and with so many first-year contributors, the possibility of the team wilting early against such an established program weighed heavily.
But the first half couldn't have unfolded much better for the Panthers (13-2), considering they were held scoreless. They had an 8-3 advantage in shots on goal before halftime, and their aggressive play helped them draw five penalty corners.
"We realized at halftime, we were just as good as that team," Klares said. "We were confident coming into it, but I think there was a little intimidation when they showed up here on a coach bus. We knew we could pull it out -- we just had to get behind each other."
All along, Patuxent's seniors led the way. One of them, midfielder Kati Borgholthaus, played with a foot injury that only a month ago seemed as if it would sideline her for the rest of the season. Two others, Klares and forward Mary Strain, hit their respective penalty strokes.
Another, goalie Whitney Thomas, made the biggest difference in the game, especially after she stopped each of Glenelg's first three penalty strokes. Thomas had 11 saves -- including five in overtime, many of which involved her straying far from the cage to stop an oncoming breakaway and preserve the game.
"She stepped up today, just making choices that we don't necessarily coach in practice," Powell said of Thomas. "It's pretty much you either do it or you don't. You have to take a chance sometimes."
Patuxent's toughest test of the playoffs awaits. The Panthers go into their game against Hereford telling themselves they're underdogs. Once more, they will be facing another team with a storied history of winning. But at this point, they just might not know any better.
Said Klares: "Every year, we've gotten bigger and bigger. We're taking it all the way. We're going as far as we possibly can with this."