McNulty delivers as Carroll captures title

ASTON — The Archbishop Carroll field hockey team needed little motivation to prepare for Thursday night’s Philadelphia Catholic League Championship with Cardinal O’Hara. After all, the Lions defeated the Patriots during the regular season and in the same game a season ago.

“We came in just knowing that we were underdogs,’ Carroll junior forward Grace McClatchy said. “We wanted to get back what we thought was ours.’

The Patriots did just that. McClatchy scored twice and Keara McNulty grabbed a late winner to give Carroll a 3-2 victory at Neumann University.

“That was just the moment we’ve been playing for,’ McClatchy said of the win. “This was our goal all season.’

The Carroll student section, curiously stationed next to the O’Hara contingent, fled the stands as soon as the final buzzer sounded. They climbed the fence and were soon joined by the Patriot players in a celebration of black and red on the turf.

“I heard that some people were coming,’ said McNulty. “Everyone is really supportive of every activity at Carroll. It’s special.’

If possession alone could win a field hockey game, the Patriots wouldn’t be celebrating at all. The Lions dominated play through much of the first half. They had five penalty corners to Carroll’s one. Makayla Gallen had a great chance to take the lead seven minutes into the contest, but fired wide. That turned out to be the story of O’Hara’s evening.

A minute after the Gallen miss, McClatchy opened the scoring for Carroll. She collected a rebound at the side of the goal and buried it.

“I was at the right place at the right time,’ she said.

The two teams entered halftime with that score line intact. After the break, the competitive balance continued to sway in the Lions’ favor. But Carroll defenders Courtney Brady and Mary Catherine Jones proved to be a tough duo to break. They prevented O’Hara from breaching circle, forcing their opponent to shots from the outside. On corners, the Patriots were tremendous. The Lions had 13 in the match. They converted zero.

When McClatchy scored her second of the game with a little more than 15 minutes on the clock, it looked like the goal to seal the championship.

“I pulled the ball back around the goalie and shot,’ she said. “I really had all the confidence in our defense at that point. I thought that was enough.’

Down 2-0, though, O’Hara finally found an offensive spark. Catholic League Most Valuable Player Jess Randazzo put the Lions on the board at the 11:44 mark. She collected the ball out of the goal to save as much time as possible for a comeback. O’Hara wouldn’t need it. Eighteen seconds later, the game was tied 2-2. Hannah Nihill, who assisted on Randazzo’s marker, scored on a superb individual effort. She cut inside to the right and smacked a shot past Kerri Mountz to put the teams level.

Carroll captain McNulty did her best to keep her team calm.

“We couldn’t let it frazzle us,’ she said. “We needed to keep our composure. Trust is so huge I think. We trust each other. We understand that when we’re in tough situations, we need to stay together.’

The Patriots earned just four penalty corners in the contest, a testament to O’Hara’s strong defense. Unlike the Lions, though, Carroll capitalized on one. With five minutes remaining in the game, McNulty took a pass off the corner and immediately played the ball to Alyssa Lemons. Lemons tapped it back to the senior midfielder, who made no mistake in finding the back of the goal.

“She gave me a beautiful position,’ McNulty said of the give and go with Lemons. “The coaches had walked us through that play a lot in practice.’

McNulty knew there was too much game left to celebrate.

“It gave us the spark we needed but we weren’t satisfied,’ she said. “We had to play hard to the end.’

When the whistle blew, the Patriots rushed their goal. The Lions, meanwhile, were left to rue their missed opportunities. Both teams will represent the Catholic League in the PIAA Tournament, Carroll in AA, O’Hara in the AAA division.

“Their defense did a good job,’ said Lions coach Marie Murphy. “Give them credit. We just couldn’t finish. We had a lot of crosses that didn’t go our way. We did everything we could.’

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