Through most of this season, South Carroll’s field hockey team didn’t think about playing for a state championship. A five-game losing streak late in October certainly seemed to snuff out any glimmer of possibility.
But every team gets a second chance in the state playoffs and the Cavaliers rebounded to reach the Class 1A title game where they matched perennial power Pocomoke for a half before falling, 5-1, at Stevenson University’s Mustang Stadium in Owings Mills.
“Coming off of that losing streak was hard,” senior goalie Lily Sheaffer said, “but our last game was Fallston (a 1-0 win), and ever since then, we kicked off our A game. Coming into playoffs off that one win, we knew that if we wanted to get anywhere, we had to play together and we really came together. We really proved that even though you’re a seven seed, you can really show everybody.”
Shaeffer made 20 saves to keep the Cavaliers (10-7) in the game until the top-seeded Warriors scored four goals in the final 24 minutes. Pocomoke had 13 penalty corners and took 27 shots in the game.
Audrey Lillycrop scored an early second-quarter goal to tie the game for the South Carroll and it stayed deadlocked into the third quarter. Pocomoke’s stellar forward Marli McDorman scored the second of her three goals midway through the quarter to spark the Warriors (16-3) on their way to a second straight championship and their 21st overall, second only to Severna Park’s 25.
McDorman, a superbly skilled player headed for Old Dominion, gave the Cavaliers trouble with her ability to dribble through traffic and create scoring opportunities for herself and her teammates. She also had an assist in the game and finished her senior year with 37 goals and 20 assists.
“She’s a player,” Sheaffer said. “She’s very good. I will give her props. She dominated their field. She was always front and center and we knew not to go center. We knew to go sideline just to get away from her. She is their best player and I knew that going into it. I had to watch out for her and she had some great goals.”
McDorman scored the first goal, moving the ball past multiple defenders and into the circle for the drive past Sheaffer about 10 minutes into the game. Despite seven penalty corners and 10 more shots in the first half, the Warriors couldn’t put anything else past Sheaffer and the defense of Kay Lee, Reese Athey and Makenna Sageman.
South Carroll had scoring chances too with three corners and five shots in the first half. Lillycrop, a sophomore forward, tied it on their fifth shot with 10:18 left in the half.
“I got a pass from Shannon (McTavish) and Caroline (Laur) in through the circle and I just kind of tipped it right through the goalie,” Lillycrop said.
That was the only goal the Warriors allowed in the playoffs and goalie Ella Eshman finished with 10 saves against South Carroll. Pocomoke outscored its final five opponents, 34-1, to finish with a 16-game win streak.
For the Cavaliers, who have won five state championships, this was their first appearance in the state final since their 2018 title. It was also their first regional final since then.
Despite the disappointment, the loss could not tarnish the Cavaliers’ exceptional playoff run that included avenging two regular-season losses to Carroll County opponents Liberty and Francis Scott Key. In a county rich in the sport, South Carroll was one of two teams, along with Manchester Valley in Class 2A, to play for a state hockey championship this fall even though they finished 1-5 in the county league.
They defeated Liberty, 2-1, in the regional final and rolled past Carver A&T, 8-0, in the state quarterfinal before edging Key, 2-1, in the semifinal.
After the five-game losing streak, second-year Cavaliers coach Kayla Houston talked to the team and had them get together without the coaches to figure out how they wanted to finish the season.
“I told them, ‘You guys need to dig deep and figure out what is going to help us move on from this little rut that we’re in,’” Houston said, “and so we had two options — we get knocked out in the first round of playoffs or we make the best of the season and we make a comeback. I give them so much credit, because that’s exactly what they did. They dug deep. They became a better team and worked together and they wanted it.”
For six Cavaliers seniors, there was plenty to be happy about with silver medals around their necks.
“I’m going to take this season with me forever, because I had no idea we were going to make it this far,” senior forward Mandy Harris said, “and I’m just so incredibly proud of all my teammates and I’m so thankful for them.”
CLASS 1A STATE FIELD HOCKEY CHAMPIONSHIP
(at Stevenson University)
POCOMOKE 5, SOUTH CARROLL 1
SC 0 1 0 0 — 1
P 1 0 2 2 — 5
GOALS: SC—Audrey Lillycrop; P—Marli McDorman 3, Dakota Trader 2
ASSISTS: P—Marli McDorman, Dakota Trader
SAVES: SC—Lily Shaeffer 20; C—Ella Esham 10