Liberty’s 3-peat bid voided by Pocomoke in 1A state field hockey semifinals; No. 19 Francis Scott Key fades in second half

Pocomoke’s Marli McDorman raises her arm after scoring the first goal in Thursday’s Class 1A state field hockey semifinal against Liberty. The Lions lost, 3-1, to the Worchester County school at Broadneck’s Lawrence E. Knight Stadium, ending their attempt at a third consecutive state championship.

by James Peters

Special to VSN

There won’t be an all-Carroll County field hockey state final. Francis Scott Key High and Liberty’s hopes of reaching Washington College were ended Thursday evening in the 1A state semifinals at Broadneck’s Lawrence E. Knight Stadium. 

The Lions’ championship run ended with a 4-1 loss to Pocomoke while the 19th-ranked Eagles dropped a 3-1 decision to Southern Maryland’s Patuxent.

The setbacks were eerily similar. Francis Scott Key (12-3) had perhaps the best chance and continued one of its best seasons in years, taking a 1-0 halftime lead.

In what was largely a defensive struggle in a first half that saw just two combined penalty corners, Hannah Boyer cleaned up a deflected ball on her team’s lone corner 58 seconds into the second quarter for her 20th goal of the fall campaign. 

“It happened so quick,” Boyer said of her score. “My stick was down and I was ready for it. We just wanted to score first.”

The Panthers from Calvert County, however, roared back with three goals in the third quarter and then held possession for much of the fourth to secure the win. 

“I don’t think we recovered,” Boyer added. “When they got one goal, we had our heads down. That’s something we do. We tried not to, but we did.”

Jenna Horton, Riley Eells, and Rylie Borgholthaus posted Patuxent’s third quarter goals in roughly 3 1/2 minutes.

“I think they got two back-to-back (goals),the second and third goals, they definitely deflated,” said Key coach Lori Knights of her squad. “They sort of did not trust each other on the field.

It’s hard. This is one of the best seasons we’ve had in many years. They set themselves up really high and it deflated them a little too much.”

The first half proved to be Liberty’s downfall as undefeated Pocomoke secured its spot in Championship Saturday in Chesterstown. 

Pocomoke (14-0-1) took possession early and often in the opening stages, resulting in a flurry of penalty corners. Eventually, Marli McDorman’s tally put the Worchester County school ahead in the first.

Brooke Burgoon knotted the score for the Lions (11-5) at the 12:42-mark of the second quarter, cleaning up a rebound to the right of the goal following a corner she initiated.

“This game they asked me to insert and Caitlin (DeCocco) made a great pass down the post and I just swept it in,” Burgoon said. “I think everybody on our team played amazing and are great players, but at the end of the day, it happens. They’re a strong team.”

Pocomoke, which entered averaging a staggering six goals a match, opened up a 3-1 halftime advantage on goals from Dakotah Trader (16 goals this season) and Aubrey Jackson-Bowen, off a beautiful pass in the circle from McDorman (13 goals, 20 assists in 2021).

Trader cleaned up a ball from Jackson-Bowen with 2:19 left in the half while Jackson-Bowen tipped in McDorman’s pass as McDorman dribbled through the heart of the Lions defense on a quick restart with 1:19 remaining before intermission.

“They’re a fast team,” said Lions coach Brenda Strohmer. “Their stick skills are really good and they’ve got two really strong players and they just out hustled us today.”

Strohmer’s squad, whose strategy was to keep the ball on the outside and away from McDorman and Leni Wittman (28 goals), tightened up defensively in the second half. Both offenses were stagnant for the final 30 minutes save for a goal by McDorman off a penalty corner pass from Trader with 1:17 left in the match.

The loss ended Liberty’s bid at a third straight state title. The Lions won the 1A championship in 2019 after hoisting the 2A trophy in 2018. Century also enjoyed a 39-game unbeaten streak.

“I’m extremely proud of these girls,” Strohmer said. “It’s a whole new bunch of girls. They gelled. They played well as a team. I couldn’t be any more prouder to be their coach right now.”