As the clock on the University of Maryland, Baltimore County's soccer stadium began counting down the final 30 seconds of regulation in Saturday's Class 1A state girls soccer final between Middletown High School and Harford County's Fallston, one thought crossed Knights junior Mary Pritts' mind: Overtime.
“Oh, yeah. I thought we were going to overtime. I was thinking penalty kicks,” Pritts said.
That all changed when the clock showed 23 seconds remaining. Pritts suddenly found the ball at her feet in “her spot” to the left of the goal and around the 18-yard line.
Under pressure from Fallston's defense, the crafty midfielder/forward took one touch on the feed from Mary-Kate Afzali with the outside of her left foot and launched a shot inside the right post to clinch Middletown's 1-0 win.
Saturday's victory marked the Knights' (17-2) third consecutive state championship, a county record.
Fallston (16-3-2) rebounded from losing 15 seniors to reach its first state final since winning its third state title in 2009.
“I saw where Mary received the ball and I knew it was going in and I could finally breathe again. That's her perfect shot,” Middletown coach Heather Kline said. “I think each [state title] has it's own feeling but I felt more pressure this past week, with the fact that it's three and Frederick has not had a team win three consecutive championships. But this is nice in the fact that we have done something no Frederick soccer team has done before.”
There were stretches when the likelihood of that happening was uncertain.
Fallston is incredibly speedy, especially up top, and the Cougars put a tremendous amount of pressure on the Knights' backline Saturday — sophomore goalkeeper Maria Tartaglia kept the team alive on many occasions.
Cougars coach Mark Hannahs said he was surprised at how well the Knights' speed matched up.
Middletown is at its best when it's possessing the ball and using its technical skill and creativity to connect short passes and keep opponents chasing.
Mackenize Noel controls the midfield as well as anyone and sets her teammates up with incredible through balls, but the Knights struggled to settle into their game on a consistent basis on Saturday. Kline credited Fallston's intensity.
For the first time since the second or third game of the season, Kline said, Pritts moved forward late in the second half on Saturday and the new dynamic helped Middletown push up more effectively.
“[Pritts] could not have put that ball any place, but where she put it. That was a great shot. That game was even all the way through. I think it's one of the most evenly played games I've seen in a while,” Hannahs said. “I thought maybe we were going to penalty kicks.”
Middletown 1, Fallston 0
Middletown (17-2) 0 1 — 1
Fallston (16-3-2) — 0
Middletown — Mary Pritts.
Middletown — Mary-Kate Afzali.