North Carroll's Lisa Engel raced to the ball as it lay near midfield midway through the second half. She skidded through a muddy patch, somehow kept her balance and blasted the ball downfield and out of trouble.
The sloppy field greatly slowed both North Carroll and River Hill in yesterday's Class 3A North region semifinal. But Engel came up with the game's big play, scoring with 4:32 left in the first half to give the Panthers a 1-0 victory over the Hawks.
Top-seeded North Carroll (11-0-3) will play host to No. 2 seed South Carroll (12-0-1) in today's region final. The teams played to a 1-1 tie at North Carroll in their only meeting of the season. North Carroll won the Carroll County championship, and South Carroll took the Central Maryland Conference crown - each winning because the other had more ties that lowered their winning percentage.
This week's rains made mush out of a good portion of the North Carroll field. The North Carroll athletic department took extra steps to keep the area in front of both goals dry, but there wasn't much they could do about the sidelines.
"Both teams [were] playing under the same conditions," North Carroll coach Denean Koontz said. "But you weren't able to execute too many stick skills. You just had to push [forward]."
The poor conditions took away the speed that the Panthers depend upon. North Carroll loves to make long hits and runs and use their speed - particularly Engel's - to set up scoring chances. But that couldn't work on this day as the game was played pretty much in the midfield area.
North Carroll, tied for No. 15 in the rankings, had possession for the majority of the game but could get only five shots. River Hill (7-5-3) struggled on offense, rarely getting the ball into the North Carroll end in the second half after Kate Hayne made some good first-half runs and ending up with three shots.
But the Panthers have relied on Engel all year, and she stepped up again yesterday. Engel took a nice pass from Jessica Pickard and flicked a short shot past River Hill goalie Clare Herlihy. Engel said later that she thought the shot deflected off someone or something to get past Herlihy (four saves) for her 14th goal this season.
"It hit something," Engel said. "It was a very lucky shot."
The Panthers tightened up defensively after that. Seniors Ashley Smith, Courtney Beard and Aly Palmer kept the Hawks from coming anywhere near goalie Brittany Wigley (three saves). North Carroll was able to use its speed on the slow field, often beating River Hill to balls that would simply stop.
The Hawks suffered their fourth one-goal loss.
"I thought we moved the ball pretty well," River Hill coach Shelly Chamness said. "But our weakness all year has been scoring."