BALTIMORE — Linganore has brought more talented and more offensive-minded girls soccer teams to the state final and come within inches of winning the championship.
But those state runner-up teams in 2014 and ’15 weren’t defined by the same qualities — a daily workmanlike attitude, togetherness and a giant chip on the shoulder — that carried these Lancers over the finish line Saturday afternoon at Loyola University’s Ridley Athletic Complex.
“That’s exactly what I told the girls after the game,” coach Howie Putterman said after Linganore prevailed 4-3 in penalty kicks to beat Huntingtown in the Class 3A championship game after 100 scoreless minutes and claim the school’s first state championship in girls soccer.
“Of all the fantastic talent that we’ve had here, it was — I didn’t say crazy— it was fitting that this is the team that broke through. This is the closest team I think that I’ve ever had.”
From the start of the season, when they had to replace their two leading scorers for the second straight year and their entire defensive line, nobody thought of these Lancers as potential state champions.
Certainly, not many liked their chances after Huntingtown dictated play for nearly the duration of Saturday’s state-title game and had the ball on Linganore’s goal line on multiple occasions.
It just seemed like fate wouldn’t allow it to go across this time, and there were the Lancers holding the big trophy after a 15-1-3 season.
“We talked a lot about destiny. We talked a lot about luck,” Putterman said. “At some point [along the way], we all started to feel like this is our year. Things were going to go our way. The ball was going to bounce in our favor.”
Linganore, true to its defensive identity, only allowed 10 goals all season. Its only setback was 1-0 loss to nationally ranked Urbana on Oct. 5. The Lancers turned the tables on Bel Air — the team that beat them in penalty kicks in the 2015 state final — last week in the state semifinals.
“It got to the point where I think we all thought, ‘I think we’ve got this,’” Putterman said.
Almost from the start Saturday, Linganore was forced into its defensive shell. But given the way their season had played out, it wasn’t something the Lancers were uncomfortable doing.
The situation worsened when the team’s leading scorer, senior striker Haley Barge (23 goals, three assists), reaggrevated her ankle injury almost seven minutes into the game and sat out almost half of the first half.
When Barge, who earned a share of the school’s single-season record for goals, returned with 13 minutes, 51 seconds to play before halftime, she wasn’t running like she normally does. She said later she was playing at 70 percent of her capabilities. Putterman put it closer to 40.
The injury to Barge forced Linganore to change its offensive formation and crawl into the fortress of its defensive bunker.
“What you saw today was a team with no attack,” Putterman said.
Huntingtown (16-2-1) continued to dictate the action but could not find the finishing touch. The Hurricanes hovered around the Linganore goal line in double overtime to no avail.
“I thought our ladies played very well. They did everything but put the ball in the back of the goal,” said Huntingtown coach Charlie Rafael, who, while complimentary of Linganore, thought the better team did not win.
“It’s a hard thing. It ends in a bad way. But, you know, we have been on the other end of some of those.”
After surviving 80 minutes of regulation and two 10-minute overtimes — stretching their run of scoreless play in the state final to 266 minutes dating to the early minutes of the 2014 state final — the Lancers felt very confident heading into penalty kicks.
“We are very good at penalties. We have been very good at penalties,” Putterman said. “I had confidence in all five of my shooters. I had Nos. 6 and 7 lined up, ready to go.
“[Senior goalkeeper] Maddie [Cunningham] is a beast when it comes to PKs. I can almost guarantee you one or two saves in every PK round, and she’s done it over and over and over again. At that point, I could taste [the state title].”
The Lancers’ belief also stemmed from the fact that they had beaten Huntingtown in penalty kicks two years ago in the state semifinals.
Senior midfielder Ashley Yurich, Linganore’s best penalty-kick shooter, was the first to step to the line for the Lancers, and she confidently buried her shot right down the middle.
Junior midfielder Fiona Rowan, senior striker Grace Pritchett and sophomore midfielder Juliana Zeller all followed suit by converting their attempts.
Junior defender Abigail Rieland was set to take the fifth and final attempt for Linganore. But it proved to be unnecessary after Cunningham, who specializes in shot blocking, snuffed out Huntingtown’s second attempt with a quick dive to her left.
“The way she came up to the ball, I had a feeling she was going to her [right],” Cunningham said. “I just happened to be right there.”
And so the team that wasn’t supposed to be here — and certainly wasn’t supposed to win the championship — was left to pose for all of the celebratory pictures and carry the trophy off the field.
“I have no words,” Zeller said. “This is the best feeling.”
Putterman wasn’t even sure he had the better team Saturday. But, in this rare instance, it didn’t matter.
“We have been very, very lucky this year,” he said. “We play with grit and determination and heart. We needed that more than anything today. We absolutely needed that more than anything.”