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Two teams, two years, two championship games, two shootouts, one Region XX title. The 2009 Harford women’s soccer team picked up right where the 2008 squad left off, but this time instead of the Fighting Owls (16-2-1) walking away with the Region XX runner-up plaque, No. 1 Harford claimed the Region XX Women’s Soccer Championship title by besting No. 2 Anne Arundel, 3-2, in a penalty kick shootout.

The path to victory was anything but easy, however.

Not only did the teams have to compete against each other, but they were also required to battle Mother Nature in the form of blustery, 15 mph winds. Fortunately for Anne Arundel, the Pioneers (12-2-2) needed just one shot to take a 1-0 lead, as they were shooting into the wind during the first half. Jessica Ruyter connected with a streaking Autumn Bishop on a breakaway and Bishop beat freshman keeper Cierra Stinson (Mercy) one-on-one at the 13:24 mark.

Harford fired nine more shots in the remainder of the half, eight on goal, for a total of 12 in the first half. Anne Arundel keeper Amy Baker was brilliant in goal, however, stopping shots at point-blank range that should have been sure goals for the Owls and sending Harford to halftime with a one-goal deficit and challenge of a second half against the wind.

Soon enough, the second half would look eerily identical — fitting due to the Oct. 31 date — to the first as it took Harford just one (and-a-half) shots to even the score. Freshman Penelope Fantis (Fallston) would fire a shot from eight yards out on the left side that Baker swatted away but couldn’t control, before freshman Beth Lambros (North Harford) got a foot on the ball. Lambros’s shot deflected off a Pioneer defender, which provided it with just enough change of direction to sneak past Baker at the 58:17 mark, or 13:17 into the half, almost identical to the 13:24 goal in the first period.

The Owls still had their work cut out, however, as they clashed with the raging winds, managing just eight shots (four less than the second half), while the Pioneers totaled nine.

In the final 10 minutes it looked as if the game would be forced to overtime as neither team was having significant chances on goal. Then, at the 83:51 mark Lambros fired a shot from about six yards out that went just wide due to a hard tackle by a Pioneer defender. Five seconds later, Lambros remained on the ground and the referee made a game-changing call, whistling Anne Arundel for a foul and awarding Harford a penalty kick.

Fantis lined up for the shot at the 12-yard mark and shot low to beat Baker to the right as Harford took a 2-1 lead with 6:04 remaining in the game.

The Harford defense, which played exceptionally well during the second half, stepped up its game in the final minutes, keeping the Pioneers from gaining possession in the box, but Anne Arundel would manage one shot, from far outside the box, that looked to be an easy save for Stinson.

Both offense and defense alike had already started retreating to prepare for the goalie punt, but Stinson misjudged the ball’s path and came out of goal just a little too far as it took a hard bounce over head and scooted past the goal line to knot the score at two, with 3:18 left in regulation.

Anne Arundel immediately fired two shots at Stinson after the ensuing kickoff, which the keeper easily handled and Harford managed just one more shot before time expired to send the game to overtime.

The story would get deeper in overtime as redshirt freshman Lyndsie Ludwig (C. Milton Wright) fired a shot during the 94th minute, but collided with Baker after the shot. Both players went down and Baker, who played every minute of every game in goal for the Pioneers during the season, would leave the game.

Without a backup goalie on its roster, Anne Arundel was forced to turn to midfielder Jaclyn Nucci, who donned a keeper’s jersey and took Baker’s place in net.

Nucci lucked out during the first overtime, as Harford failed to register a shot on goal, while Stinson recorded just one save before time expired to set up a second overtime period.

The Owls saw their best chance during the 108th minute as sophomore Kaylee Smith (Perry Hall) fired a shot from the left side that just missed, bouncing harmlessly off the crossbar. Smith’s shot would be the last for either team as the 110th minute ticked off to force a best-of-five shootout.

The outcome looked dim for Harford as the Pioneers held a 2-0 lead after two rounds thanks to goals by Kaitlyn Warf and Samantha Adams and two shots wide right and high by Fantis and Lambros, respectively.

Anne Arundel needed just one more goal to seal the win and crush Harford’s national-tournament hopes for the second straight year. Caitlin Gunzelman’s miss in the third position restored some of that hope and after Smith’s shot bounced off the right post and miraculously ricocheted into the left side of the net, Harford was right back in it, 2-1.

It was up to Stinson to give Harford another chance, and she did not disappoint, making a diving save to stop Kellie Kroneberger’s shot, while freshman Erin Lynn (Fallston) beat Nucci to tie the score at two. Stinson came up big again during Anne Arundel’s final chance, stopping her second consecutive shot, by Stephanie Miller to bring Ludwig to the 12-yard line. With Harford’s chances resting on her shoulders, Ludwig converted on her chance to give the Owls a 3-2 shootout victory and propel them to the Mid-Atlantic District Championship, the last stop before the national tournament.

The Fighting Owls will face the Region X champion in the district final on Saturday at Harford Stadium.

Overtime in semifinal

CCBC-Essex scored in the 89th minute to tie the game at one, but Lambros scored just over three minutes into the second overtime period to give Harford a 2-1 win over No. 5 CCBC-Essex in a semifinal on Thursday night at Harford Stadium.

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