When the end of a perfectly played game is heartbreak

On High Schools

November 08, 2005|By MILTON KENT

You sense that some day Mandy Pickard will think long enough about watching the Severna Park field hockey team celebrate its 3-2 sudden-death overtime win over her North Carroll teammates in yesterday's state Class 3A semifinal and lament.

Right afterward, however, before the sticks could be packed into their bags, and before the Panthers could board the bus to head back home, Pickard wasn't in the mood for lamentations.

Pickard, a senior, was defiant and angry. Defiant because her career had come to an abrupt end on a goal from Severna Park midfielder Jill Puffenbarger with 2:40 left in the overtime, and angry because the Panthers weren't able to knock the top-ranked Falcons off their perch.

"When they came in and screamed and sang their songs and stuff, I think that made us feel like ... I don't know how to word it," Pickard said.

"We just knew that we could win this game and we had it. We thought we really had it. But what's the point of coming this far and giving up? We gave it our all."

Indeed, both the Panthers and the Falcons gave what they had and more in a gorgeous late-fall afternoon in an even more beautifully played contest.

In the 30 years that the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association has offered a field hockey tournament, the Falcons, under the tutelage of coach Lil Shelton, have won 14 of them, with all but one coming at the Class 4A or Class AA level.

And yet, the gritty Panthers weren't afraid of Severna Park, Shelton or the aura, for they knew how to drop a giant.

To reach the semifinals, North Carroll, which shared its conference and county championships, won the 3A West region by taking out Bethesda-Chevy Chase, 1-0, on Friday. B-CC, like Severna Park, has established a tradition of its own, winning or sharing 10 of the past 11 state titles in the 3A and 2A classes.

For North Carroll, winning its way to Saturday's final by beating B-CC and then Severna Park would have been like bringing down Godzilla and King Kong in succession, but two-thirds of the way through the second half, it appeared that the Panthers were going to slay two behemoths in a row.

That's when Pickard scored on a dazzling play to give North Carroll a 2-1 lead. Pickard took a pass on a penalty corner, stick-handled her way through the circle, twirled, then fired a shot low and to the right, past Severna Park goaltender Corinne Manuel.

"Mandy's an outstanding player and this is an outstanding team," said North Carroll coach Denean Koontz. "We run our corner offense around her because of her ability to read the defense and determine whether she shoots right away or makes a move. We put that in her hands."

Said Pickard: "I just felt so open. I let it loose, I guess. I knew I had to hit it as hard as I could because there's nothing else I could do. There are three options in that circle. The first one is to shoot it, so I shot it as hard as I could."

The Falcons tied the score three minutes later to force the overtime. Manuel got a measure of revenge two minutes into the extra period, when she stoned Pickard on a penalty stroke. Pickard shot high and right, and Manuel guessed correctly, knocking the shot away.

"Mandy Pickard has nothing to hang her head about," said Koontz, a North Carroll graduate. "The goalie made a great save, an outstanding save. It was a nice stroke and a nice save."

A few minutes later, the Falcons took advantage of an unsettled situation in front of the North Carroll net and Puffenbarger banged home a shot to end the Panthers' season.

The thing that no one tells you about the first time you grab a field hockey stick and chase the little white ball is that the day might come when the game ends and your heart breaks.

But, if you're like Mandy Pickard, you play hard enough and dig deep enough to ignore the pain, for that, too, will pass.

"What will I take from this? Playing with all those girls," Pickard said. "The girls on this team are amazing. And Koontz. She's been the best coach I've ever had in my life. She's taught me everything I know. That's what I'm going to take."

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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