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Cardinal Comeback Not Enough

Ireton girls’ lax scores three goals in last four minutes, loses WCAC title game in 2 OT.

As Bishop Ireton girls’ lacrosse coach Steve Tela laid out what his team’s game plan was heading into Tuesday’s WCAC final with perennial juggernaut Good Counsel at University of Maryland’s Ludwig Field, it was hard not to look up at the post game stats and think the Cardinals’ strategy had been executed almost to perfection.

“We have tremendous speed and the plan was for us to dictate how we were going to play using our speed and ball handlers and force their defense to play defense,” said Tela.

Thirty-two attempts on net later, Tela and company can only shake their heads after a virtuoso goaltending performance by Good Counsel’s Christina Sheridan, in which she stopped 17 shots, giving the Falcons a 12-11 double overtime victory and their sixth-consecutive WCAC title.

The defeat was Ireton’s fourth in seven years in the WCAC title game and second-straight title game loss at the hands of Good Counsel. Even worse was the fact that the Cardinals had to score three unanswered goals in the final four-plus minutes to even force an overtime.

<b>IRETON JUMPED</b> all over Good Counsel from the start, opening up a 4-2 lead thanks to two goals apiece from junior Janet Tela and Maria Bowman. But after senior captain Ashton Hellmuth’s score to put the Cardinals up 5-3 with five minutes remaining in the first half, the team went cold, held without a goal for the next 10 minutes of play.

Much of that had to do with Sheridan. Ireton outshot Good Counsel 17-9 in the first half, controlled much of the possession thanks to the strong play of faceoff specialist Maddy Connor, and yet the score was 6-5 in the Falcons’ favor at halftime.

“We outplayed them,” said Tela. “[Sheridan] is a great goalie and she saved their behinds today. That really was the difference.”

Meanwhile, Good Counsel was in the middle of reeling off six unanswered goals, taking what looked to be a commanding 9-5 lead with 20 minutes to go in regulation.

That’s when Hellmuth took matters into her own stick, getting Ireton back on the board at the 20-minute mark. She then cut through the Falcon defense for three goals in the final four minutes of regulation to tie the game and send it to an extra period.

She had Ireton’s lone score of the overtime period, finishing the game with five goals. But as is common in heartbreaking defeats, her shot — the Cardinals’ 32nd of the game — that was stopped by Sheridan with a little more than a minute remaining in double overtime will likely be what is remembered. Even if everything but the final score went in Ireton’s favor.

“The big thing with this group of kids is last year they were happy just to get here and this year they felt they deserved to be here and they could run with them,” said Tela. “And they proved that today. They belong in that group of real elite programs.”

<b>THEY WON’T HAVE</b> much time to think about this loss, though, since the Cardinals begin play in the VISAA state tournament Wednesday, after the Gazette Packet’s deadline, against undefeated Bishop Sullivan. Despite being arguably the third-best girls’ lacrosse program in the area, Ireton has had to not only play second fiddle to Good Counsel within its own conference, but also to perennial ISL champion St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes within its own city.

The Saints take on Bullis in the ISL Final Wednesday. Both SSSAS and Ireton are the top seeds in the private school version of a state tournament and could meet in the finals, which are scheduled to take place Saturday at Episcopal.

“I feel bad for the team that has to play against us [Wednesday] because we’re gonna have a little chip on our shoulder and a little more incentive to play harder,” Tela said after the tough loss. “We’ll find a way to make this a positive.”