Some might have questioned Long Reach coach Kelly Snyder's decision to replace star forward Brandi Franks for a brief time in the final of a Class 3A North regional matchup with North Carroll. However, Franks' replacement, Shelby Orndoff, made her coach look like a genius.
Orndoff, a sophomore forward, scored a goal three minutes after entering the game, and senior midfielder Jessica Burkhardt added another two minutes later to spark the ninth-ranked Lightning to a 2-0 win over No. 8 North Carroll in Hampstead yesterday.
Long Reach improved to 11-2-2 and captured its first regional championship in the program's four-year history. The Lightning, which clinched a share of the Howard County title with Glenelg last week, will meet the Class 3A South regional champion Monday at Goucher College.
Snyder's bold gamble came in the 11th minute of the first half when she sent in Orndoff to spell Franks, who has 11 goals and three assists this season.
"Brandi was a little flat today," Snyder said of her senior forward. "So I took her out to talk to her and put Shelby in."
The move paid off at the 8: 03 mark when Orndoff redirected a Burkhardt shot past North Carroll senior goalie Devan Bosley (four saves) to give Long Reach a 1-0 lead.
"When I went in, I knew that somebody had to step up and score," Orndoff said. "It was a beautiful pass by Jessica, and I just tipped it in."
The Lightning cashed in on a penalty-corner opportunity with 5: 51 left. Senior midfielder Bridgette Burkhardt's pass was caught by Shannon Woodward. She then passed to Jessica Burkhardt, who slapped the ball into the left corner for a 2-0 lead.
The Panthers (11-4) turned up the pressure in the second half by attacking the Lightning defense and forcing senior goalie Jaye Lance to make seven saves. But Long Reach held off every challenge to seal the championship.
North Carroll coach Denean Koontz said she thought the key to the game was her squad's inability to score a quick goal in the first half.
"Had we done that, I think that would've changed the game," said Koontz.
The win touched off a raucous celebration as the Lightning players mobbed each other in the middle of the field.
"We're going to Goucher," Lance chanted. "We get a banner in the gym. Getting the banner was the biggest thing for us."
Many of the team's 10 seniors said the trip to the state tournament caps a season-long goal to emerge from the regionals as one of the four best teams in the state.
"We planned on coming here," senior Teresa Heston said. "We didn't want to go home today."
Experience paid off for Fallston in its regional final against South River.
The defending state champion Cougars advanced to the Class 3A state semifinal with a 3-2 decision in penalty strokes after the game was tied at 1 through 60 minutes of regulation and two 10-minute overtime periods at seven aside.
Fallston, winner of seven state crowns in all, won two of its past three region titles by penalty strokes.