LEWIS CENTER – In a game that left little breathing room for either team, Maddie Garner scrapped a goal in off the left post with 2:13 left to give the Olentangy girls lacrosse team the lead.
But, it was her defensive play in the final 20 seconds that preserved a 14-13 victory over rival Olentangy Liberty in a Division I, Region 1 semifinal Monday night.
Garner scored five goals and fellow senior Kenzie Sklar added four goals in a game that saw nine ties and no more than a two-goal advantage for either team.
“It was a phenomenal effort individually and together,” Olentangy coach Amy McCormick said. “They really hold a lot of weight on the team and their leadership shows.”
Olentangy has had six games decided by one goal and another that ended in a tie.
“We’ve had experience with that this year,” McCormick said. “The constant pressure is there, but we continue to tell the kids to just keep at it.”
Sklar came up with a big defensive play in her own right, scooping up a ground ball with a minute left after Olentangy goalkeeper Abby Derick made her biggest save of the game on a Liberty free-position shot that would have tied the score. Derick had six saves for second-seeded Olentangy.
The Patriots got it back on an offside penalty and Garner was able to knock the ball loose from behind near midfield with about 15 seconds left. Megan Haddow scooped it up and Olentangy ran out the clock.
“It’s a solid team effort,” McCormick said. “We knew it wasn’t going to take just one or two people to beat this team. (Liberty’s) a solid team. It was a solid team effort all around.”
Sklar and Garner have been climbing the Liberty mountain all four years. The Patriots won all five previous meetings against Sklar, Garner and Olentangy – including a 13-10 win in last year’s regional semifinal and a 13-11 come-from-behind victory earlier this season.
“I literally got chills in the last 10 seconds,” Sklar said. “We just laid everything out and it feels so good. It makes me wanna cry right now.”
Sklar scored three of her goals in the first half, including a pair of go-head goals as Olentangy took 2-0 and 4-2 leads before Liberty battled back each time.
“It was so intense,” Sklar said. “If you let up for one second – they were gonna catch on to that and get the ball back. I couldn’t even breathe. You just had to keep going. I just kept saying, ‘This is my last game. This is my last game.’”
Molly Bursinger, who led the Patriots with five goals, scored twice in a 4-0 stretch – including the capper which gave Liberty its largest lead at 6-4 with 9:17 left in the half.
“She’s had a nice career,” Liberty coach Tim Bosco said. “I was trying to get her the ball there at the end … the ball didn’t roll to her.”
Her fifth goal tied the game once again. It came with 5 minutes left in the game as third-seeded Liberty overcame its third two-goal deficit.
Olentangy won the ensuing face-off and, after a couple of errant shots wide, Garner got fouled and converted the ensuing free-position shot – whistling it off the left post and in to give Olentangy the lead for good.
Megan Haddow had two goals, Sydney Semel led with two assists and added a goal and Grace Maddox and Katie Berberick added a goal apiece for Olentangy (15-5-1).
Emma Shear and Lauren Buddie had two goals and an assist apiece, Julia Swaro added two goals, Paige Haughn had a goal and an assist and Lauren Newcomb chipped in a goal for the Patriots (13-7).
Gillan O’Rourke stopped 11 shots in goal for Liberty.
“There’s a lot of fight in them,” Bosco said. “They’ve done that all year. In a game like that – it’s almost whoever had the ball last. I know it’s cliché – but it’s kind of true.”
Olentangy advances to Thursday’s regional final where it’ll meet top-seeded New Albany at Westerville Central High School. Face-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichnotwealthy or contact him at [email protected]