The Patuxent field hockey team enters tomorrow's 2A field hockey final against Parkside with this one undeniable factor in its favor: Statistics at this point are virtually meaningless.
That much became apparent in the Panthers' 1-0 win Wednesday against Hereford in the semifinals. Although the Panthers trailed in every major statistical category, they managed pull out their second straight penalty-stroke victory, this one over the defending state champions.
Hereford had an 11-3 advantage in shots on goal and a 12-2 advantage in penalty corners. But like Glenelg before it, it failed to score against Patuxent.
"They might have been a step quicker than us, but our girls just wanted it more," Patuxent midfielder Tasha Klares said.
After defeating last year's 2A runnerup and champion in succession, Patuxent (14-2) is vying for the program's first state title. To win it, the Panthers need to get past Parkside (13-3) -- another team without history on its side, having last made the finals in 1993. Parkside proved to be a formidable threat after its 2-1 victory over then-undefeated Middletown in its semifinal Monday.
If any revelations came out of the Hereford game, it is that low defenders Kelsea Bullock and Lindsay McGrew may be Patuxent's most valuable assets tomorrow. Bullock, a slugger on the Panthers' softball team, used her power Wednesday to clear the ball past midfield and turn back numerous Hereford scoring opportunities.
"The defense worked their butts off," said Patuxent goalie Whitney Thomas. "I could count on them to get back and I knew they would. It was incredible. Kelsea has such an awesome drive. I know she can drive it downfield. I really look forward to when she gets a hit."
Thomas did her part, totaling 11 saves for the second straight game. Wednesday featured a wild pair of overtimes that saw Thomas survive a one-on-one breakaway against a Hereford forward in the first frame and the defense fend off four penalty corners in the second.
Thomas then stopped all but one of five Hereford penalty corners, Mary Strain scored on Patuxent's first attempt, and Klares scored the eventual clincher on the third, her second straight game doing so.
"We felt like if our girls could just hold it -- I mean, it would be great if we could have won it in overtime -- but if we go into strokes we just have it," Klares said. "We don't even practice strokes but we are just naturally good at it."
Patuxent came into the season with the unknown variable of fielding only four seniors. None of that matters anymore. It is as though the Panthers gained a season's worth of experience in two games. The novelty of the state semifinal appearance signaled a mad on-field celebration after the Glenelg victory. After the Hereford victory, the Panthers finally felt like they belonged.
"This is so good for our program," Coach Lynn Powell said. "We have three freshmen on the team watching this and seeing these four seniors expect to win. That's something I can't teach on the practice field."
Deja Vu for Northern
For the second year in a row, Northern's field hockey players walked off the field at Howard High in Columbia with that sick-to-the-stomach feeling that comes with one-goal losses in games that are contested for a berth in the state finals. Last year, it was to eventual 3A champion Bethesda-Chevy Chase in overtime. On Wednesday, it was a 1-0 defeat to Fallston of Bel Air in Harford County.
Northern senior goalie Anne Anderson and a trio of defensemen -- Nichelle Kerfoor, Kelly Sharkey and Jenna Radspinner -- more than made up for the team's dearth of offense. Anderson was nothing short of spectacular, making nine saves, including one right-leg pad kick out that resembled an NHL goalie. That one kept it a scoreless game late in the first half.
"She had the most incredible game two years in a row," said Coach Dawn Moore, referring to Anderson's play in last year's 3A semifinal against Bethesda-Chevy Chase, where Anderson faced 27 B-CC penalty corners. "Nichelle Kerfoor made a lot of good plays. The whole defense held them off."
Fallston (15-4) had two goals disallowed in the first half -- one on a shot that came from outside the 16-yard circle, another that was deemed too high off the ground. Despite being out-shot 11 to 1, Northern (15-2) went into intermission in a scoreless tie.
Fallston senior Paige Comegys found an opening on the left post and scored the eventual game winner four minutes into the second half, and Northern's only second-half scoring chance came with four minutes left in the game when the Patriots were awarded its only two penalty corners.
Senior Bailey Gronbeck's shot on the first one was blocked, and the ball skipped over her stick on the second, leading to a delayed pass and a Fallston steal. The Cougars, by contrast, had 15 penalty corner play-ins.
Gronbeck conceded that the difference in the teams' style of play was obvious.
"What we play down south [in Southern Maryland] is so much different that what we played here [today]," said Gronbeck, who had 4 goals and 13 assists this season. "I've only been playing as a freshman, and these girls [have been playing] much longer. They have a very strong youth program. We don't. We need that.
"I've been saying that forever. It's not an excuse, we really tried, but we were playing more defense than offense."
Moore, the team's third-year coach, said she was very proud of going undefeated in the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference (11-0) this season and making it back to the state final four.
"Just to be on this field [two years in a row] is a privilege," she said. "That's nothing to sneeze at."