Hammond field hockey coach Gay Petrlik sees her Golden Bears as a youthful, inexperienced team that shows its age but occasionally flashes a veteran look.
Take Monday's 2-1 overtime victory against Baltimore's Seton Keough High School for example.
The homestanding Bears thoroughly outplayed Keough in a scoreless first half, yet failed to convert on five penalty corners and many other scoring opportunities. Twenty-one minutes into the second half, Hammond broke the tie on a goal by Analisa Encinas, and with senior goalkeeper Audra Paul having a superb game in the cage, a Bears victory seemed like a lock.
But the defense in front of Paul began sagging under Keough's stepped-up offensive pressure. Erin Welsh then finished a fast break with just under two minutes to go to tie the score, forcing overtime.
If momentum carries so much weight, Hammond looked in trouble, especially when Keough moved the ball into the striking circle and took a close shot in the opening seconds of the 10-minute overtime period. Paul, however, calmly kicked it aside to give the Bears a lift.
Six minutes later on its second penalty corner attempt in overtime, the Bears finished the job. Erin Beerman's shot hit the right pipe and landed in front of Sharon Thomas, who followed up with the game-winning goal.
Youth and all, Hammond (3-0-1) is undefeated through its first four games. In a quirky bit of scheduling, the Bears will play host to Wilde Lake tomorrow (3:45 p.m.) in a final non-league tuneup, before opening their county schedule at Wilde Lake eight days later.
Petrlik talked about Hammond's "rapid progress" after its season-opening 2-1 victory over Arundel. Monday's performance left her no reason to retract that opinion.
"They're young and they're shooting a lot," said Petrlik, whose Bears outshot Keough, 11-9, and earned nine penalty corner chances to Keough's five. "I've had four different people score so far this year, which is a wonderful sign. And except for two seniors, all of them (starters) are juniors and sophomores."
One of those seniors -- Paul -- was the key for Hammond on Monday, and could very well be the key to a county title run. Paul, a four-year starter in the cage, made eight saves Monday and showed her worth early in the second half, when she stopped four point-blank Keough shots in a two-minute span. Paul and the other starting senior, sweeper Laura Baker, kept the cage area clear for most of the day.
Now, about those youngsters. Thomas, a junior forward with something to prove this fall, is one of the underclassmen Petrlik feels will progress the most. She's trying to overcome a serious knee injury suffered early last season that required reconstructive surgery. It has left a steel pin inserted in her knee.
Monday, Thomas, who has been slowed by the injury, sparked the Bears with crisp passing and line-drive hitting during regulation play before scoring her second goal of the season to win it, a play she started with a penalty-corner pass.
"She's (Thomas) got such good stick work and she's got the smarts," Petrlik said.
Thomas also got plenty of help from juniors like center halfback Beerman, link Autumn Barbosa, forward Encinas and sophomore halfback Dara Tankus.
"We didn't play as well in the second half as we did in the first, another sign of youth," said Petrlik. "We were doing some hitting and hoping out there. And we're still hesitating on our free hits.
"But they knew at halftime they'd had a lot of shots, and they knew somehow it was going to go in. They're diligent, good at correcting their mistakes. They're getting better."