With under 10 minutes remaining in the first half of Saturday’s Class 3A state semifinal at CCBC-Essex, Amanda Jackson scored to give Reservoir High the advantage against Tuscarora. That was the easy part.

The final 40 minutes, Jackson spent defending Titans’ standout forward Aaron Parry, who’s one of the state’s top players. After the 12th ranked Gators’ 1-0 victory, Jackson served notice why she’s also among the state’s elite.

“She’s an unbelievable player,” said Gators coach Josh Sullivan. “She does everything for us. If I need her to play up top and score a goal, she does.  I need her to play defense, she’s man-marking their best player. Thank god, she’s a sophomore.”

Jackson outworked a defender for control of a through ball, dribbled several yards and knocked a shot past Titans’ goalie Elizabeth Ulan at the 30 minute, 37 second mark of the opening half.  It was Jackson’s team-leading 13th goal of the fall.

With the lead, Sullivan opted to put the Gators’ title hopes in the hands of his defense, using a 4-5-1 set. Reservoir (14-3-1) avenged a 3-2 defeat to Tuscarora (12-3-3) in the state championship game nearly a year ago.

“The first 10 minutes we were going to show a normal formation and man-marked Arran as much as possible,” said Sullivan. “Second half, we just played defensive.

When they don’t score, you look like really good as a coach. When they do [score], you look like an idiot.”

Jackson can make a lot of coaches look smart with her versatility. She admitted some nerves playing against Parry, who’s a friend as well as teammate on the Maryland State ODP squad.

“She’s fast, she has good moves,” said Jackson. “I just had to be ready on my toes at all times.”

I love playing defense, but I felt more pressure because if Arran Parry scored, I would’ve been disappointed.”

Instead, the Gators are a victory away from completely erasing the heartbreak of last season’s final loss. The Howard County school will take on Huntingtown, a 1-0 winner over No. 5 C. Milton Wright, Thursday evening at UMBC, for the title. 

“Hopefully the second time is the charm and we don’t need a third,” said Sullivan. “This was more of a mental game [vs. Tuscarora] for them more than anything. Knowing how good they were, it was a mental boundary we needed to overcome.”