Staked with a big lead following a dominating first-half performance, Westminster seemed to have last night's nonconference boys lacrosse game against River Hill easily in hand.
In a split second, however, the host Owls lost their top player and the momentum but still held on for an 11-7 win.
Westminster got a scare when midfielder Matt Duke, possibly the best player in Carroll County, took a forearm from River Hill's Josh Walters off the faceoff that opened the second half. Duke lay motionless for about three minutes before sitting up and eventually walking to the sideline.
The junior, who had scored three goals for the Owls (8-1), did not return, and the Hawks, (7-3) gained the momentum, rallying from an 8-1 deficit to make a game of it in the final minutes.
"There was no intention on the hit," River Hill coach Keith Gonsouland said. "Lacrosse is a physical game. Their guys are hitting us, and we're hitting them. There was no malice behind it."
Westminster coach Jim Peters said the hit changed the momentum of the game, which to that point had been controlled by Westminster.
"[The first half] was exactly how we wanted to play," said Peters, whose team out-shot the Hawks 24-5 in the first half. "We wanted to control the ball offensively, and I think we did that. And we wanted to be patient with the ball, and I think we accomplished that."
Defensively, the Owls' tight man-to-man defense gave River Hill fits just clearing the ball much less getting off a shot. When the Owls had numbers, they capitalized on fast breaks. When faced with the Hawks' packed-in defense, they were content to patiently work the ball around the perimeter for the shot.
Peters was unsure whether Duke would return for Westminster's critical county matchup tonight against South Carroll, though Duke was more certain, saying, "I'll be back in there."
Coming off Tuesday's loss to Howard County rival Centennial, River Hill rebounded from a flat first half to twice pull within four goals. John Kerchenstiener, Alex Tack and Tim Morgan each scored twice for the Hawks.
"I think we just really came out and played with some desperation and some passion in the second half," said Gonsouland.
Joe Mruk also scored three goals for Westminster.