Midway through the season, John Carroll hockey coach Karen Bonsack wasn't sure her team would last until the playoffs.
The Patriots were hurting with injuries and illnesses. The midfield was falling apart. But the Patriots managed to rebound -- just in time.
A season-ending surge carried the Patriots into the Association of Independent Schools B Division field hockey championship game last Saturday against Park (Baltimore County). Although the Patriots lost to Park, 3-1, it was their first appearance in the title game in eight years. They won the championship in 1983, before the AIS split intodivisions.
For the Patriots (6-9-2), just getting to the title game was an accomplishment.
"Actually, I thought this year would be a building year," said forward Melissa Barto. "We had a lot of seniors graduate. In the middle of the year, we started not to work together, but we played together when it counted."
The Patriots turned ina fine defensive effort in the AIS semifinal game, a 2-1 victory over Oldfields in a sudden-death shootout.
Oldfields dominated most of the game, including two sudden-death 10-minute overtime periods played with seven on a side. But strong defense from Stacy Hilaski and Janet Breen as well as 21 saves by senior goalie Jeanne Coccagne held Oldfields scoreless.
In the shootout, Coccagne and freshman forward Megan Kwasniak made the big plays. Coccagne stopped five of six shots against her while Kwasniak scored both of the Patriots' goals.
Kwasniak's first goal came in the first round of one-on-ones in the shootout. Out of five shots, each team scored once, forcing a sudden death.
In that round, after Coccagne stopped Oldfields' first shooter, Kwasniak scored the game winner.
That sent the Patriots into the championship game against Park (8-2-4) last Saturday at St. Paul'sSchool for Girls in Baltimore County.
The Patriots jumped out to a quick start. Barto put John Carroll ahead midway through the first half, but the Patriots could not keep the momentum.
"They played very well until we scored," said Park coach Barb Purkey. "They stoppedall of our free hits. They were aggressive."
Park began to take advantage of some midfield openings created by the Patriots' defensivestrategy. Bonsack assigned link Jen Lutz to cover Park's high-scoring forward Kathy Richman man-to-man. That took Lutz out of midfield play and left a big hole for the other two midfielders to fill.
In the second half, Park's Jayme Gilden took advantage of the openings toscore two goals within two minutes. With 6:55 to go, the Bruins led,2-1. Jenna Gladstone added an insurance goal for Park with a little less than three minutes left in the game.
The Patriots had two players named to the AIS Senior All-Star Game, Barto and Hilaski. That game, played Tuesday at Friends School between the East and the West, ended in a 1-1 tie.