Filled with red and blue beads, the plastic bottles made a rattling sound that grew louder and louder Saturday at Linganore High School as the fans who held them shook them harder and harder.
The final seconds were ticking away in a Class 3A state semifinal, and the girls soccer team that had some red and blue in their uniforms, Thomas Johnson, had turned in yet another stellar performance in a breakthrough season that justified all that noise.
Thanks to a combination of fine shotmaking and an ability to respond when pushed by their opponent, the Patriots defeated Mount Hebron 3-1 to advance to their first state final in 17 years. TJ (9-4-2) will take on Northern (Calvert) — a 3-1 winner over Towson in the other state semifinal at Linganore — at Loyola University’s Ridley Athletic Complex next week. A date and time for the championship match hasn’t been determined.
“Resiliency,” TJ coach Adam Weinstein said when asked what stood out about his team’s effort. “We’re just not the kind of team that backs down or folds under that kind of pressure. You have a big crowd, and it’s a different type of atmosphere, and we just seem to step up every single time it gets a bit harder.”
On a windy day during which temperatures dipped into the mid-30s, TJ held a 1-0 lead and almost saw it disappear in the 25th minute when Patriots defender Megan Wilson headed a ball in the air backward. The Vikings’ Allison Brown pounced on the ball and took a few dribbles before lofting a shot that bounced off the top of the crossbar. In the final 10 minutes of the half, the Patriots survived a flurry of activity from Mt. Hebron (8-8-1) in the attacking third, including two corner kicks.
“We’ve got to go in twice as hard as they will,” TJ forward Sara Hohn said of her team’s mindset entering the second half. “We had to get that energy right back. We weren’t going to let them get that equalizing goal.”
Then the Patriots showed the resiliency Weinstein brought up. Part of it came in the form of Wilson running onto a corner kick from Mei Homman inside the 6-yard box in the 43rd minute and punching the ball in with her right quad to restore TJ’s two-goal advantage. That goal was just part of a rejuvenated team that increased its offensive pressure, collecting five shots on goal in the second half after having just two in the first half.
They needed that resiliency again in the 68th minute after Mt. Hebron (8-8-1) served a ball into the box and Maddie Hammond made a nifty right-footed volley over the head of goalkeeper Alayna Burgamy to cut the Patriots’ lead in half. Hohn provided the response six minutes later, driving a free kick from about 25 yards out into the upper right corner of the net for her 19th goal of the season.
Wilson, who had several important clears from her center back position, and fellow defenders Brianne Helmstetter and Katy McKevitt did well to stymie Mt. Hebron’s offense the rest of the way. Burgamy made two saves, but her most critical contribution may have come in the 52nd minute, when Mount Hebron’s Brie Tabenske delivered a nice throughball to teammate Alex Masse, who had gotten behind the TJ defense. Burgamy alertly came off her line and got to the ball a step ahead of Masse.
When asked how the Patriots advanced, Homman brought up an important intangible: motivation. TJ hasn’t won a state title since last making a state final in 2001.
“We haven’t won a state championship in such a long time, and we’re already halfway there,” Homman said. “Why don’t we just finish it off?”
Like Hohn, Homman also showed off some strong shooting skills. Possessing the ball in the middle of the field in the 15th minute, Hohn fired a pass to Homman, who was making a run down the left flank. From a tough angle, Homman delivered a terrific bending shot that drifted away from the outstretched fingertips of Mt. Hebron goalkeeper Ainsley Sowers and inside the far post.
“I’m so used to taking shots coming in at an angle,” Homman said. “I’m able to turn my whole foot around the ball and curve it in.”
The fact that Homman kicked the ball into the wind made the shot that much more impressive. But it didn’t surprise Hohn, who has become accustomed to seeing such shots during the season.
“She always makes amazing shots,” Hohn said. “It’ll be a shot where you’ll be like, ‘No way, oh my gosh.’”
Linganore has become a home away from home for the Patriots, who have won their past three games at the Lancers’ stadium.
“We had to be comfortable in the uncomfortable,” Weinstein said. “Sometimes it’s a little uncomfortable, but because of the way that we train and the way that we work and the mentality we bring to every game, it’s not an obstacle, it’s an opportunity.”