There was a definite turning point in the second half of the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association Class 3A field hockey championship after Country Day coach Lisa Thompson called a timeout with 25 minutes remaining and the Bucs mired in a 1-1 deadlock with rival Charlotte Latin.
It seemed as though the Hawks (15-4) were the aggressor for much of the first half, as they dominated the ball and struck first on an early goal. But Country Day (14-3-1) picked and prodded and eventually got a goal from all-state performer Princess Southerland, pushing the teams into halftime tied at 1.
“At the beginning, everyone was excited and nervous, but we had to settle down and be controlled and poised,” Thompson said. “I think we did that and all the way to the last minute.
“Each team had moments. We’re both really fast, good and highly- skilled. There were times Latin controlled the game and times we did, so it was a great game and Latin’s a great team.”
But something changed after that timeout. The Bucs refocused their attack and for the next 20-plus minutes totally controlled the ball and, essentially, the outcome.
After retaking the field, senior Madison Penegar found the back of the net just two minutes later and the Bucs never looked back.
“They’re our biggest rivals and they’ve always been taking our glory,” Southerland said. “We just said (during the timeout) that we had to hate losing more than we love winning and take it right here.
“We had the hardest road to get here and we just weren’t going to lose today. It’s the most amazing thing ever. We’ve been waiting so long and we had to get it today.”
After Penegar’s goal, the Hawks’ pace of play picked up for the game’s final few minutes as they furiously tried to score the equalizing goal, but that wasn’t in the cards as the Bucs dominating defense – spearheaded by all-state goalkeeper Shannon Baker – thwarted every attempt.
The defense was unrelenting despite losing key defensive contributor Emmy Onorato in the semi-finals with an injury.
“I think we played great,” Baker said. “One of our starting defenders (Onorato) got nailed in the face yesterday and had to get 18 stitches, but we just pulled together, played as a team and I think we did a great job all around.”
And as the Hawks continued their frantic pace and tried in vein to tie the score, Baker continued to make play after play, preserving the win.
“I think I stepped up and did what I know how to do,” Baker said.
Thompson commended her whole team, starting with Baker’s play in the net.
“Shannon was outstanding today and she’s done that all year,” Thompson said. “But our whole team was, and so was our defense – especially being down one. That’s what is exciting about this team is the power and the strength in the numbers. It’s hard, basically our defense had to rotate to control.
“I’m really proud of the girls. The heart and the power was in the unity of the team. It was fun to be a part of.”