Westminster High boys lacrosse team managed just two goals in the final 24 minutes Wednesday evening.

It was enough for the Owls to return atop the Carroll County Athletic League. Westminster clinched at least a share for the title with a 9-7 victory over Winters Mill.

After watching their three-goal lead evaporate in a scoreless third quarter dominated by the host Falcons, Owls junior attackman Austin Hardesty scooped up an errant shot attempt by teammate Mason Fisher and narrowly beat Winters Mill goalkeeper Seth Myers (eight saves) for the game-winning score with 6 minutes, 37 seconds left in regulation.

“It was a shot; it bounced off the pipe or something (and) just came right at me,” Hardesty said. “Really, just good timing. I thought I had a shot, so I took it, and from there, it was just exciting. We know deep down, we’re a good team. That we can push through anything.

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“At the end of the third quarter, we just had a talk like we’ve got to show more, and we came out and did that in the fourth quarter.”

Roughly two minutes later, junior midfielder Gavin Gifford fired in an assist from Brady Covey to provide for that final two-goal margin and push the Owls (10-1 overall) to 4-0 in CCAL play heading into Wednesday’s contest with Manchester Valley.

“We needed it; we needed a goal,” Gifford said. “They had the momentum on us in the second half. They shut us out in the third quarter. We just needed something, and we came out and got it.”

Westminster dominated possession in the first half largely through the work of specialist Max Johnson, who won nearly every faceoff for a 15-8 shot advantage and a 7-4 lead at the half.

Austin Hardesty scored three goals for Westminster in its victory over Winters Mill Tuesday evening in Carroll County. The Owls can clinched the Carroll County Athletic League title outright with a win at Manchester Valley Wednesday evening. (James Peters)

Taking advantage of that extra time with the ball were Austin Hardesty and Cam Webb, who each scored a pair of first-half goals followed by single scores from Johnson, Brady Covey, and Gavin Gifford.

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“Max just did a great job of getting us the ball on a pretty consistent basis with that,” Westminster coach Steve DeFeo said. “Max definitely did a good job of getting us the ball.”

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Johnson’s goal came as he secured a faceoff and then raced unmolested to the goal where he beat Winters Mill goalkeeper Carter Wissel to tie the match at 1-1 with 8:05 left in the first quarter.

The Falcons kept pace in the first quarter by efficiently scoring a trio of goals on the same amount of shots, but Westminster used goals from Hardesty, on a close-range look, Webb, on a long shot in transition, and Covey, who grabbed a loose ball out of the air and tossed in a shot, to power the Owls to the three-goal halftime lead.

A switch to Myers in goal and a much larger share of ball possession helped the Falcons trim that three-goal deficit to just 7-6 in a controlling third quarter that saw Myers make five saves and Kyle Anderson and Reed Postlethwait (four goals) each notch a score. Anderson turned a pass from Andrew Owens into a long-distance goal while Postlethwait posted his third-quarter score in transition. Postlethwait added a power-play goal with 7:20 left in the match to forge a 7-7 tie.

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Winters Mill (8-1, 4-1 CCAL) had a chance to clinch the league title outright with a victory over its Westminster city rival. The Falcons can gain a share if Manchester Valley (3-1) defeats Westminster Wednesday evening in Manchester.

The Owls clinches the title outright with a victory.

“The biggest thing was just reiterating trying to dominate ground balls. It’s one of those things: you can’t teach hustle,” said Winters Mill coach Darian Meador, whose team hasn’t beaten the Owls since 2012. “The biggest thing was just reiterating to the guys we only play Westminster one time a year and the seniors know this is the last time you can play them. I think it sparked a little bit of fire in them. Overall, the biggest thing was not to tuck our tail and show a little heart and come back a little hot.”

WESTMINSTER 9, WINTERS MILL 7

Westminster 4 3 0 2 - 9

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Winters Mill 3 1 2 1 - 7

GOALS: Westminster - Austin Hardesty 3, Gavin Gifford 2, Cam Webb 2, Max Johnson, Brady Covey. Winters Mill - Reed Postlethwait 4, Kyle Anderson 2, Jesse Tobias.

ASSISTS: Westminster - Brady Covey 2, Jackson Zaranski 2. Winters Mill - Camden Deming, Andrew Owens.

SAVES: Westminster - Connor McNamara 4. Winters Mill - Seth Myers 8, Carter Wissel 4.

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