When C. Milton Wright and North Harford met in girls lacrosse Thursday night, both sides expected a close game. None of their previous seven meetings had been decided by more than four goals. Three of the last five were one-goal games.
Early on, No. 3 C. Milton Wright appeared ready to buck that trend by running up a seven-goal lead, but the Mustangs needed that advantage to hold off the visiting Hawks for a 12-10 victory that clinched the Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference Chesapeake Division championship.
The Mustangs (11-1, 5-0 division) will play the Susquehanna Division winner for the conference title May 6 at Havre de Grace at 7 p.m.
Thursday night, just about everything went right in the first half for the Mustangs, who have won six straight games over their Harford County rival. They won eight of 12 draws and outshot the Hawks, 18-9. At one point, the Mustangs had a 16-2 advantage in shots and took a 6-1 lead with six players scoring.
"Going into the game, we knew North Harford was going to give us a really good battle," Mustangs senior Abby Smucker said, "and we knew right from the start that draws were going to be crucial. Whoever had possession was going to get the ball in the back of the net and keep the ball away from the other team, so we knew we wanted to stay on top of the draw right away. We did a good job of that towards the beginning, but at the end it got away from us a little bit."
After the Mustangs finished the first half with three straight goals — two from Brooke Williams and the other from Renee Landis — they couldn't sustain the momentum into the second half even though they won the first five draws.
The Hawks pressured the Mustangs into three turnovers, and Hawks goalie Haley Ensor made two of her eight saves in the stretch to help North Harford (7-2, 4-1) begin to rally.
Leah Monticello, Julia Schrof and Emily Clark scored to pull the Hawks within 9-5 less than six minutes into the half.
The Mustangs negated those goals when Smucker scored and then fed Maggie Gallagher and Haley Alexander to boost the lead to 12-5 with 10:18 left.
Alexander's goal would be the last C. Milton Wright scored, in part because after Schrof scored twice to pull the Hawks within 12-7, the Mustangs passed up shots to maintain possession.
After Mustangs goalie Alexis Strouse saved Monticello's free-position shot, C. Milton Wright managed to run more than six minutes off the clock. However, they turned the ball over with 55 seconds left and North Harford scored three times.
Katie Clark pulled the Hawks within 12-8 with 46.7 seconds to go, and the Hawks won the next two draws, giving Morgan Knox a chance to score twice. Fortunately for the Mustangs, time ran out on the Hawks, who scored the last five goals of the game.
"We talked about at halftime that we needed to have a complete game and that kind of got away from us," Smucker said. "Moving forward, we're going to work on having that full 50 minutes to the game. We can't play one half and just come out and expect it to be the same the next half. We have to keep working hard the whole game."
North Harford coach Tara Buecker felt the same about her team, although she was pleased with the second-half rebound.
"We did not come out with our game at all," Buecker said of the first half. "My girls were definitely second guessing themselves and not playing their game. They let [the Mustangs] take control."
Williams had three goals and an assist for the Mustangs, while Smucker had two goals and two assists. Gallagher added three goals. Strouse finished with four saves.
Schrof led the Hawks with four goals and two assists, and Knox scored three goals.
Goals: NH—Schrof 4, Knox 3, Monticello, E.Clark, K.Clark; CMW—Williams 3, Gallagher 3, Smucker 2, Haggerty, Moynihan, K. Burgee, Landis, Alexander. Assists: NH—Schrof 2, Crowther, E.Clark; CMW—Smucker 2, Williams, Haggerty, Moynihan. Saves: NH—Ensor 8; CMW—Strouse 4. Half: CMW, 9-2.