As the final buzzer rang out, the screaming Holy Cross Tartans erupted onto the University of Maryland’s Ludwig Field, mobbing teammates and throwing lacrosse sticks into the air. On the sideline they just evacuated, their coaches hugged one another as the roar of the student section served as background.
And while not every spectator could bear to watch this celebration, they all witnessed a giant fall.
Holy Cross took home the WCAC championship, snapping powerhouse Good Counsel’s 90-game conference win streak, while also denying the Falcons their ninth straight tournament title Wednesday evening.
“It feels great,” said head coach Jenna Ries. “We’ve been working hard for three years and this [was] our year to do it.”
Two minutes into the championship, Holy Cross struck first after senior attack Shannon Gallagher earned a free position shot from the left side for a score. Gallagher, who scored a game-high four goals, pushed the lead to 2-0 five minutes later after curling around the cage to sneak the ball in.
Of course no giant will go quietly. Good Counsel responded with two goals of their own, after sophomore Madison Hoover and junior Shea Cassidy capitalized on a couple of defensive lapses, silencing the Tartan fans.
But those breakdowns seemed only to fuel the Tartan defense and freshman keeper Jackie Branthover, who refused to give up anything more to a team that scored 32 combined goals in their prior two playoff games.
The freshman finished with a game-high 11 saves in helping her team beat Good Counsel for the first time since 2004, something she hopes to do again.
“It’s nothing that I could have ever dreamt up, it’s wonderful, I love it,” Branthover said of the victory with her chest guard still in place and her teammates howling and cheering around her. “I’m hoping to get more.”
With the defense stonewalling the Falcons, the Tartan offense, powered by Gallagher and fellow senior Monica Lucas, who scored a hat trick, went on a 7-2 run to put the game out of reach.
The goal that kept the momentum on Holy Cross’ side came when sophomore Nicole Lantuh sent a long pass to Gallagher, who scored with 9.8 seconds left in the first half, sending the Holy Cross student section into a frenzy.
As the time melted away in the second half, it became inevitable that there would be a new WCAC champion for the first time in eight years.
“I was really emotional,” said Gallagher, who earned first team WCAC honors along with Lucas. “I knew that we broke the streak...[but] I knew we had to protect the ball and keep our calm, but it felt great.”
Twenty-one days earlier, after her team had suffered a 16-9 loss to the Falcons, Ries proclaimed, “We’ll be ready for the playoffs.” Now she stood on the track around Ludwig Field, her team hoisting the championship trophy to the fans.
But the coach found a little extra something to smile about, knowing it was the Falcons they had to beat to bring home the title.
“It’s just the icing on the cake,” she said with a laugh.