For its most important game of the season, North Harford not only had several of its players come through with outstanding efforts, but also showed it doesn't need scoring from senior star Keith Smith to win.
North Harford (10-3, 6-0) led all the way last night in an 11-5 defeat of visiting C. Milton Wright (10-4, 6-1).
Wright, which had beaten Fallston, 9-8, in an emotional game Wednesday, was within three goals as late as the start of the fourth quarter, but had nothing left for a stretch run.
North Harford coach John Grubb, who saw his team clinch no worse than a tie for the county title -- it will conclude its regular season at home against Edgewood Tuesday night -- challenged some of his players, and they responded.
"I told Tommy Staab [a junior midfielder] I wanted at least a goal and an assist from him, and what did he give us -- two goals and three assists," Grubb said. He also pointed to the efforts of juniors Steve Farley and Russell Smith, each in his first varsity season.
Farley had three goals, and Smith, a third-string goalkeeper until 10 days ago, had his second impressive effort in as many key games. He came through with 10 saves in this one, after thwarting Fallston with 15 stops a week ago.
"The first goal gets us pumped up," said Staab, who added a first-period assist on Eric Barger's first goal. "Our midfield has been together for two years, and we seem to take turns getting it done. I thought we were down in the first half, but we picked it up in the second half and were more consistent."
Grubb said a lot of practice time had been spent working with Russell Smith, who had to take over after the two players ahead of him were sidelined academically.
"It was a group effort, because assistant coach Greg Murrell helped, as did our two starting senior defensemen, Nick Thompson and Jason Sikora," Grubb said. "And Russell really has come through."
Although Keith Smith did not score, he worked well without the ball, and, when attracting Wright defenders, found an open teammate.
Given the tempo of the game, Jay James, a senior midfielder, was another factor in the victory. He had a 12-6 edge in faceoffs, and as he said, "The important thing, especially against teams like C. Milton and Fallston, is to get that faceoff because you get to control the offense."