LIONS

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that’s what we had been do­ing con­sis­tently for half a season.”

It was the ninth con­sec­u­tive berth in the state play­offs for the Lions, who fin­ished the season 15-3. Fall­ston, also 15-3, now in the state fi­nal for the sec­ond straight year, will face Cen­tur y next week at Steven­son Uni­ver­sity’s Mus­tang Field.

Se­nior Mckenna Blick paced Queen Anne’s with a hat trick, in­clud­ing a freep­o­si­tion strike off a spin move in­side with 1 minute, 48 sec­onds re­main­ing that pulled her team within 7-5. That goal ar­rived af­ter the Lions were stopped on three straight free po­si­tions within 70 sec­onds — a Kai­ley Boomer miss high fol­lowed by back-to-back saves by Fall­ston goalie Lexi Rober ts.

The teams were evenly matched through much of the semi­fi­nal, a far cry from the re­gion play­offs, where the Lions’ 8-5 win over South­ern-Arun­del in the East fi­nal was by a wide mar­gin the clos­est game played by ei­ther side.

“When we play a good team, we’re not al­ways pour­ing in goals, it’s about our de­fense,” Fall­ston head coach Michael McTeague said. “It’s al­ways im­por­tant to have tough com­pe­ti­tion, to know where you stand.”

Added San­tos Bates: “I al­ways say we have a bull’seye

on our back, so ev­ery game is al­ways tough for us.”

Roberts also snuffed one fi­nal at­tempt at the 1:30 mark on a close-range shot by Queen Anne’s se­nior Emma Feaga, and the Cougars took pos­ses­sion and burned the re­main­ing clock as a tir­ing Lions squad gave chase.

“It was key to stop those, be­cause they had the mo­men­tum,” Roberts said of the saves on the late free po­si­tions and then Feaga’s fi­nal shot. “Of f that one goal, it was kind of a let­down, be­cause they brought it within two, but I knew what I had to do — I just had to fo­cus and get us the pos­ses­sion.”

Queen Anne’s only lead was at 1-0, as Blick opened the scor­ing on a top-shelf, free-po­si­tion burner past Roberts. Fall­ston coun­tered with a 5-0 run span­ning nearly 20 min­utes, se­niors Zoe Hul­burt and Anna Den­ni­son scor­ing two goals each and class­mate Emily So­lak the other on a Den­nis dish on a cut to the mid­dle.

“It goes back to the de­fense,” McTeague said. “It wasn’t like five goals, boom­boom-boom-boom-boom, it was over 20 min­utes. So, we made stops, came down, we were pa­tient and we did a nice job find­ing the good op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

The Cougars’ de­fense hounded the Lions dur­ing the flour­ish, show­ing hard dou­bles and forc­ing Queen Anne’s to con­stantly pass around the horn with lit­tle

to show for it.

“Our girls were try­ing to swing it, and they were right in the pass­ing lanes to knock down the passes,” San­tos Bates said of Fall­ston’s de­fense. “Very ag­gres­sive form of de­fense ... we saw that type of de­fense against South­ern, but we were able to run out of it. For some rea­son, this team, we weren’t able to run out of it.”

A defin­ing pos­ses­sion took place near the 17-minute mark of the first half, when the Lions re­peat­edly at­tempted to slither into scor­ing range but were re­buffed by Fall­ston. A long Queen Anne’s pass sailed out of reach at the 14:58 mark, and the Cougars’ Alynne Ab­ney scooped the grounder to re­verse the field.

“Our de­fense was re­ally, re­ally strong,” McTeague said. “Our de­fense stick­han­dled re­ally well to­day.”

Added Blick: “They def­i­nitely had a good dou­ble that came out on us. They stopped a lot of our passes that help our in­side feed, and we get a lot of goals on the in­side. I think that re­ally stunted our mo­men­tum.”

The Lions fi­nally broke the dry spell with 2:41 re­main­ing be­fore the break, as Feaga’s shot glanced off Roberts’ stick and trick­led in to shave Fall­ston’s lead to 5-2. Queen Anne’s then pulled within two goals shortly af­ter in­ter­mis­sion, a low, shovel shot by Blick cap­ping a free-po­si­tion, set play to make it 5-3.

“I think the big thing was nerves, I think we were a lit­tle ner­vous com­ing into this game,” Blick said. “We had a game plan of what we wanted to do, but sadly, we just couldn’t get it done on the field.”

Fall­ston coun­tered with back-to-back strikes that es­sen­tially put the game out of reach.

Clear­ing the ball af­ter the Lions threw it away be­hind goal, the Cougars went back up by three when So­lak fol­lowed a saved shot on Sam DeCarlo’s shot from in close, snatching the carom out of the air and redi­rect­ing it past Queen Anne’s goalie Emily Kar­baum.

The Cougars’ Sarah Du­dick made it a four-goal contest, tak­ing a stick to the head but still con­vert­ing in­side at the 12:58 mark.

Fall­ston fin­ished with a 16-15 edge on shot at­tempts, but the Lions ex­celled on grounders (19-13) and draw con­trols (9-4). The Cougars con­verted 10 of 11 clears, Queen Anne’s was 7 for 7. Changes loom on the hori­zon for the Lions, who will grad­u­ate 11 se­niors, which in­cludes the bulk of the team’s of­fen­sive pro­duc­tion, not to men­tion de­fen­sive ace Becca Clay and Kar­baum.

The Lions, with their sen­sa­tional nine-year run of state tour­na­ment ap­pear­ances, have al­ways dis­played stay­ing power within the Bay­side Con­fer­ence and 2A/1A East re­gion, and once again in 2017 loaded up their regular season with

for­mi­da­ble chal­lenges.

“We came as far as we could,” Blick said. “The best we could do is come here and show what we have, and sadly we couldn’t make it

to [the state fi­nal], but my hopes are high for the fu­ture and this pro­gram.” Fol­low me on Twit­ter @Ay­man_S­tarDem. Email me at aalam@star­dem.com

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