The Liberty boys lacrosse team, winner of four straight. North Carroll, owner of a three-game losing streak. No contest, right?
In a defensive battle reminiscent of their first meeting, the host Panthers sprinted to an early four-goal lead and then leaned on junior goalkeeper Kyle Lettau to weather a Lions storm and earn a pivotal 6-4 county win in Hampstead last night.
North Carroll, which hadn't won since April 4, improved to 5-4 overall and, with a 2-3 mark in the county, resuscitated its hopes of winning a county championship.
Panthers sophomore attack Nick Thurston said the team used its three-game losing binge as a motivational tool against Liberty.
"We kind of came back together for this one," said Thurston, who led North Carroll with two goals and an assist. "We worked hard and played like we could and played like we should."
The Lions, who were coming off a rousing 11-4 thumping of Westminster last Thursday, dropped out of first place in the county with a 4-2 record (5-4 overall).
Liberty coach Sal Picataggi said his squad lacked the intensity it displayed in the victory over the Owls, who now assume the top of the leader board based on their 3-1 mark.
"We were flat," Picataggi said. "This was the worst game we've played all year. We have to improve. We took a step backward."
Unlike the last meeting between these two teams when the Lions edged North Carroll, 4-3, in double overtime, the Panthers scored three goals in the first quarter.
Senior attack Zach Crisler scored North Carroll's first goal off a nice centering pass from junior midfielder Ryan Wilkerson with 6:41 left in the period. Less than three minutes later, Liberty junior goalkeeper Greg Stange (four saves) gave up a soft goal to sophomore midfielder Russell Portney.
Senior midfielder Greg Dalgarno made it a 3-0 Panthers lead when his shot from about 15 yards away took a weird skip off the grass and scooted past Stange with 2:40 left in the quarter.
It took Lions senior midfielder Kris Gooding only 40 seconds to cut the lead to two with a side-arm shot past Lettau.
In the second quarter, North Carroll inflated the lead to four as Thurston assisted junior midfielder Kevin Sirman at 7:01 and then scored his first with 1:58 left.
At the beginning of the second half, Picataggi replaced Stange with sophomore Greg Reeves, who allowed a goal by Thurston goal but was otherwise solid.
Liberty scored the game's next three goals, but failed to find a way to beat Lettau, who made 11 saves to help the Panthers avoid another overtime contest.
"I didn't want it again because it's lame and it's embarrassing," Lettau said of being extended into the extra period. "We wanted to prove ourselves to everyone, and our defense really picked it up."
The game grew testy at times and nearly led to a fight after the final horn sounded when Gooding and North Carroll senior defenseman Dave Kuhn started jawing at each other at midfield.
"It was intense on both sides," said Panthers coach Dave Dodson. "Both teams came at each other. ... It just fell our way."