Nicole Clark wanted just one thing for her 17th birthday: to help her Fallston field hockey team win last Monday's state semifinal game.
She celebrated by scoring the game-winning goal in sudden-death penalty strokes to lead the Cougars (11-3-1) to a 2-1 victory over top-seeded Middletown (12-3) at Goucher College.
Teammate Tammy Kloiber gave Clark a lot of help with that birthday wish.
When the game came down to penalty strokes, the veteran goalie made two saves, including a spectacular one.
This marked the second year in a row the Cougars had won their semifinal game on sudden-death penalty strokes.
"We were all screaming three-peat," said Fallston link Kerri Guth. "We were just determined. Being defending champions gave us that extra push."
The fourth-seeded Cougars were scheduled to go for their third straight Class 2A title yesterday. They were to meet James M. Bennett of Wicomico County. Second-seeded Bennett beat Glenelg, 1-0, in last Monday's other semifinal.
Early on in Monday's game, the Cougars looked as though they might be headed home early rather than having a chance to defend their title.
Middletown, of Frederick County, came out with plenty of spark while the Cougars looked flat.
Middletown's quick halfback line stopped most of Fallston's offensive drives. Although each team had three corners, the Knights dominated the first half. Fallston only had one shot.
"We just were not on," said Coach Alice Puckett. "We were playing with the ball. We dribbled when we should have passed and passed when we should have dribbled. We just weren't aggressive."
Strong defense, especially by halfback Erika Beynon, held off Middletown's assault. But the Knights finally broke through with 13:40 left in the first half. Kerry Black cranked up near the top of the circle and hit a line drive that Kloiber had no chance to stop.
Faced with losing their title, the Cougars picked up the pace after halftime. Guth tied the game midway through the half. Tight defense by Beynon, Jeana Marzulla, Lori Anderson and Amy French held off Middletown to force the game into overtime.