After a scoreless first half, both coaches at last night's Class 2A girls soccer state semifinal between Hammond and Loch Raven told their teams that the winner likely would score first.
They were right, but not without a twist of fate.
Ninety seconds after an offside call cost 14th-ranked Hammond (14-4-1) the game's apparent first goal, Loch Raven's Gina Ruocco scored in the 66th minute, and the host Raiders went on to win, 2-0.
Loch Raven (14-4-1) will play Frederick County's Middletown, a 1-0 winner over North Harford, in the state final next week at UMBC. That game will be a rematch of a state semifinal last year that Middletown won, 1-0, with seven seconds left.
Ashley Sudbrook, whose goal in the final minute clinched the game, headed the game-winning ball to Ruocco on the right side near the 18.
"I looked up, and there was only one defender, so I took the shot," said Ruocco, the team's leading scorer with 13 goals.
Hammond goalie Tara Zammichhieli came out to protect the near post, and Ruocco's shot went to the far post, just over the goalie's arms.
Hammond coach Pete Di Marco said his team "was a little bit off" against Loch Raven and that losing that apparent goal was difficult to overcome.
"That was the goal we needed, and if we score at that point, the game could have been a totally different story. We would have won."
Loch Raven coach Mike Parker didn't disagree.
Hammond took only six shots and could not get one off in the final seven minutes.
"We just didn't create very much," said Di Marco, whose team won the Class 1A title last year. "We gave it all we had."
Loch Raven (14-4-1), which has been in the state tournament eight times in 1990s, winning state titles in 1993 and 1996, was glad to have another chance at Middletown.
"We're playing so much better as a team this year," said Sudbrook. "We've had such a rough season, I really think we deserve this, and we're just going to go all the way."