The season ended Monday for Glenelg High School the way so many field hockey games turn -- on a single mistake.
The Gladiators were waging a scoreless battle with J.M. Bennett (Wicomico County) early in the second half of the Class 2A state semifinals at Goucher College, when Bennett forward Kim Bloodsworth took a pass near midfield, shook a Glenelg defender and broke toward the Gladiators goal.
Bloodsworth carried the ball quickly into the striking circle, and before Glenelg sweeper Karin Kantowski could tackle her about 15 feet in front of the cage, Bloodsworth sent a shoulder-high, line-drive shot past goalkeeper Heather Davis.
The Spartans spent the next 26 minutes overloading their defense to preserve the 1-0 lead. The strategy worked, as Glenelg failed on three penalty corners in the final five minutes, and failed to advance beyond the state semifinals for the third time in the last four years.
Bennett will play Fallston (Harford County) for the state championship 2 p.m. Saturday. Glenelg and 15-year coach Ginger Kincaid will try again next year to reach the state title game for the first time in 12 years. The Gladiators have never won a state crown.
"When you play at this level of competition, one lapse of concentration can make the difference," said Kincaid, whose Gladiators finished the season with a 10-4 record.
"Any time you play hockey and lose, 1-0, you can usually point to one mistake," she added. "Our defense (on the Spartans' score) didn't do its job. We fell back outside the circle and let her (Bloodsworth) inside, instead of forcing her to dodge or pass off before she got there."
Prior to Bloodsworth's goal, the Spartans had controlled the ball and out-hustled Glenelg for most of the first half. By halftime the Spartans had earned five penalty corners to Glenelg's two and had outshot the Gladiators, 4-2. Only Davis's four saves, two on dangerously close shots, preserved the scoreless tie. Davis wound up with eight saves.
The second half started encouragingly for Glenelg, which pressured the Bennett goal immediately to pick up a penalty corner.
But the Gladiators couldn't manage a shot, and after a good clear by link Emily Cole -- who frustrated Glenelg constantly -- Bloodsworth made them pay on the next sequence with 26:25 to play.
The Spartans then called timeout and invited Glenelg to try puncturing its sagging eight-man defense. The Gladiators complied, nearly tying the game on a penalty corner with 20 minutes to go, but Bennett goalie Morgan Horsey smothered the shot just outside the line before kicking it away.
The Gladiators turned up the pressure in the final 12 minutes, taking four shots on four penalty corners. Each time either Horsey or Cole ruined the play.
And to Bennett's credit, although they sacrificed offense to protect their lead -- a strategy Kincaid didn't address kindly -- they still nearly added to their lead twice on fast breaks, both on Bloodsworth shots. One ricocheted off Davis's knee. The other was wide.
"I thought their defense was obnoxious. That's not field hockey," Kincaid said. "That's like saying there are no positions to play anymore. I never do that. Maybe that's why I've never won a state championship.
"It wasn't like we didn't get our chances," she added. "I feel really sad. We had such a good year. I planned to be together with them for another week."