As Hereford's Erin Woods watched teammate Lindsay Roberts' shot roll through Hammond's scoring circle, she thought the ball would never reach the cage.
"It felt like it took a minute," said Woods. "I was like `go, go, go. Yeah!'"
Although Roberts drove the ball hard from near the top of the circle, it seemed to roll in slow motion through the last few feet. The shot did, however, find the cage and that was enough to give the Bulls a 1-0 victory over No. 10 Hammond in the state Class 2A field hockey semifinals yesterday at Goucher College in Towson.
The Bulls, co-champs in Class 1A two years ago, advance to meet five-time defending champ Bethesda-Chevy Chase for the state Class 2A crown at 11:30 Saturday morning at Goucher. The Barons (18-0) defeated Salisbury's James M. Bennett, 3-0, in yesterday's other semifinal.
Roberts' goal, scored with 3:38 left in the first half, came on Hereford's 10th penalty corner.
The Bulls (11-4-1) dominated the early going, pushing the Golden Bears back into their own circle much of the half. The Bears (11-6) didn't even get the ball into Hereford's circle for the first 17:10 of the game.
Frustrated on their first nine corner plays by Hammond's packed-in defense, the Bulls finally broke through on what Woods said has been one of their most effective corner plays.
"We thought, we have to put this in," said Woods, a senior midfielder, "and we've been practicing the from-me-to-Lindsay whack-it-in all year. I just knocked it to her and the goalie was really far out and Lindsay whacked it in the corner. It was great."
Bears goalie Amy Burke said that at first, she was sure she had the save.
"I went down to do a split save, but my pad stopped in a gully and I'm not used to that on my field," said Burke, whose team plays on short, smooth Bermuda grass in Howard County while the grass on the Goucher field was higher and much more uneven.
Although the Bulls spent more time on attack, they had trouble getting past a Hammond defense that swarmed the ball constantly. Even with so many Hammond players bunched down the middle, Roberts said it was still difficult to move the ball out wide, which would have forced the Bears to spread out.
"They play with three girls in the middle," said Roberts. "No matter where the ball is, there's all those girls on the ball all the time and it really worked for them on offense."
Hammond's attack picked up the pace in the second half, but Bulls goalie Christina Restivo stopped all three of the Bears' shots including one with about three minutes left in the game.
While the Bulls, who have been state semifinalists five straight years, celebrated their victory and their chance to go after a second state title, the first-time semifinalist Bears struggled to balance the emotions of losing with those of posting the best season in school history.
"This was such an awesome experience," said senior defender Lindsey Greer. "Most of us were more disappointed that it's over than that we didn't win."
(At Goucher College)
Severna Park (17-2) vs. Walt Whitman (16-1), 2 p.m.
South River (14-3-2) vs. Long Reach (13-4), 11:30 a.m.
Hereford (11-4-1) vs. Bethesda-CC (18-0), 11:30 a.m.
Washington (16-0-1) vs. Rising Sun (10-5), 2 p.m.