When the 10th-ranked Mount Hebron field hockey team scrimmaged North Carroll during the preseason, the Vikings didn't have to worry much about scoring. They had trouble enough simply crossing midfield.
So when Hebron's Noelle Hopper found a free hit rolling toward her stick midway through the second half of yesterday's Class 3A North Region semifinal against the host No. 12 Panthers, she didn't let the opportunity go to waste, scoring the game's only goal in a 1-0 win.
On a day when they were outshot 12-5, the Vikings did just enough to get by.
"They had lots of chances to score, and a lot of the shots they took were excellent, but our defense just stuck with it," Hopper said. "They had so many chances, but we got some fast breaks and got lucky."
Mount Hebron (12-4) advanced to tomorrow's regional final against No. 4 Long Reach, a winner yesterday over No. 7 River Hill. Earlier this season, the Vikings lost to the Lightning in a one-sided game.
To get there, however, Hebron first had to figure out a way to stop Carroll County and Central Maryland Conference champion North Carroll (12-4), which dominated play and kept the ball deep in the Vikings' end for minutes at a time.
"We had a dominating performance but didn't capitalize on scoring opportunities," North Carroll coach Denean Koontz said. "We broke down huge on our transition games and ... one goal. You can dominate all you want, but if you don't score you're not going to win."
Mount Hebron coach Jeannette Ireland said the August scrimmage gave her squad a better idea of not only what to expect, but what might work.
"We knew what we needed to do," Ireland said. "We didn't execute real well, and we looked really ugly in the defense at certain points, but we hung really rough."
The game's lone scoring play began when Julie Laun sent a free hit untouched toward the goal, and Hopper made her move.
"I saw it coming, so I just sprinted down and got my feet around," Hopper said. "The goalie came out, so I just hit it past her."
Koontz said Laun's long hit caught her defense out of position. For Ireland, however, the play was textbook.
"It's always an option the ball will go to the left middie, so I said to Noelle, `Be ready, be ready, be ready,' " Ireland said. "On a bumpy field, sometimes the ball just comes right through, and she just happened to finish on that one. It was beautiful."
For the Panthers, particularly their seven graduating seniors, the loss was hard to swallow.
"You're happy you've had a very good season, but you hate to lose your seniors," Koontz said. "They played such an important role in the county and conference title, so that's who you hurt for."