Austin puts C.M. Wright first



C. Milton Wright girls soccer coach Paul Austin faced a painful decision before the Mustangs took on defending champion Walt Whitman in Friday's Class 4A state title game.

Austin suffered a mild stroke the previous Monday night, and doctors cleared him in time to get back with his team for the game. But Austin worried about what effect his returning to the sideline might have on his team.

"I could have maybe been there, [but] I thought it might have gotten their focus off of the game," Austin said. "They would have focused more on me. They had prepared and worked all season ... and I think I would have been more of a distraction."

So Austin stepped back, planning to arrive at halftime of the game. But traffic delayed him, and Austin arrived just after Lyndsie Ludwig scored the deciding goal in the 58th minute. However, Austin got on the field and had a chance to help receive the trophy after the No. 3 Mustangs hung on for the 1-0 championship victory.

Austin also had a stroke last April and recovered from that. Doctors told him he'll be fine after this episode, although he's been a little weak since it happened.

Austin got to UMBC midway through the second half and worked his way down to the track just behind the bench. He stood there quietly, not wanting his team to lose focus.

"I think I made the right choice," Austin said. "It was great that they played hard. We depended on our defense to bend but not break and take advantage of the changes."

Austin gave credit to assistant coaches Len Nicewonger and Brent Ritz, who guided the team to the victory - the school's first state championship in girls soccer.

He also gave credit to Ludwig, a sophomore who also had game-winning goals against Reservoir and Fallston this season. But in the end, Austin said the Mustangs were a group that helped one another in many ways.

"We really push having a sense of family," Austin said. "You see it when something like this happens."

Austin's been with the team for six years and worked hard at building a family environment. He believes that's good for everyone, but his decision to step back for the final impressed people - including C. Milton Wright athletic director Jim McNicholas.

"It was very unselfish on his part," McNicholas said. "He put the team above his own personal goals."

McNicholas also said the girls deserve credit for being able to block things out and focus on the game.

"They didn't let that influence their play," McNicholas said. "They went out and did the best job they could."

Just missed

The Fallston field hockey team and long-time coach Alice Puckett had been there before, but the Cougars came up a little short in their 12th trip to the state championship game last week.

No. 1 Severna Park handed the fifth-ranked Cougars a 2-0 loss at College Park in the Class 3A title game, but Puckett saw plenty of good in this season.

The Cougars finished with a 15-5 record this fall after going only 8-6 and losing early in last year's regional playoffs.

"It was tremendous to get this crew to the [title] game and to have an opportunity to win it," Puckett said. "It's going to hopefully make them get back there."

Puckett knows what it takes to get there, as her teams have won nine times in the state title game and lost three.

Seniors Liz DiNunno and Ali Fogarty and junior Natalie Rau (defense) all had good games against a talented Severna Park squad.

Good news, bad news

Moving up to Class 2A didn't bother Joppatowne's football team too much in postseason play. The Mariners made their debut at that level with a 24-13 road victory over North Caroline last Friday.

Joppatowne advances to the East regional final Friday against Stephen Decatur. The Mariners won the Class 1A state title in 2003 and lost in the championship game last fall.

North Harford's 32-year playoff dry spell ended with Saturday's 21-0 loss at Severna Park in the Class 3A East regional first round.

A loss to eventual Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference champion Edgewood in the regular-season finale cost North Harford a first-round home game and sent the Hawks to Severna Park.

Coach Ken Brinkman's team ended the season with an 8-3 record. The Hawks won seven straight games before the Edgewood loss.

North Harford and Joppatowne were the only Harford County teams to make the state playoffs this season.

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