For one half of play on Tuesday evening it looked as if the Lake Braddock Bruins and their popular head coach, Diane Miller, were well on their way to a round one state playoff field hockey victory and an ensuing trip to Virginia Beach for one final run together at glory.
But Western Branch, Lake Braddock’s opening round opponent, had other ideas.
The visitors from Chesapeake, following a sluggish opening 30 minutes in which they fell behind by a goal, roared back to life with two second half goals and defeated Miller’s Bruins, 2-1, in the postseason contest played at West Springfield High School.
The loss concluded Lake Braddock’s outstanding season and put an official end to the storied high school head-coaching career of Miller, who had already made known her intentions of stepping down at the conclusion of this season.
The popular Miller went out in style this fall, leading Lake Braddock to an early season title at the annual Herndon High Tournament followed by a brilliant regular season of play and then two postseason tournament titles — at the Patriot District playoffs two weeks ago and the Northern Region tourney last week.
"We played so well this year," said Bruin senior forward Brittany Hopkins. "I’m real happy for coach that she could go out with a 21-2 record. We really wanted to win for her this season."
Following the end of Tuesday’s game, emotions ran high on the Lake Braddock sideline. Players shed tears knowing that, just like that, the season was over and, for the team’s eight seniors, their high school playing careers were done. On top of all that, it was coach Miller’s last game with the program.
"It was very meaningful," said Lake Braddock senior forward Ali Froede, of the final season under Miller. "That’s why it was so emotional for her tonight. It feels good to have won her some championships in her final season.
"She’s the type of coach you wanted to work hardest for on and off the field," said Froede. "She really cares about you, the team, the entire Lake Braddock field hockey program and the school. I’m really going to miss her."
As the players were packing up around the team bench following the game, a group of Lake Braddock football players, who had been cheering and encouraging the Bruins throughout the game from the bleachers, began chanting coach Miller’s name, "Diane Miller, Diane Miller," numerous times. Moments prior to that, one of them had encouragingly bellowed to the team, for all to hear, "It’s OK Bruins, we love you."
Miller said she had cried a bit during the game’s final minute or so when it was clear that Lake Braddock was not going to be able to score an equalizer goal and that Western Branch, also nicknamed the Bruins, was going to win and advance to the state semifinals later this week in Virginia Beach. But she tried her best to compose herself.
"There was no way I was going to let the kids see me cry as the clock was clicking away," said Miller, who during post game interviews had to collect herself a few times because of all the emotion surrounding the night.
<b>LAKE BRADDOCK</b>, which a week ago defeated McLean in the Northern Region title game, played an outstanding first half versus Western Branch, the runner-up of the Eastern Region. The Bruins were alive, aggressive and initiating the action against their opponents. Time and time again, Lake Braddock made strong rushes at the Western Branch goal area and, on a few occasions, got off solid scoring attempts.
Miller’s squad earned several first half corners, and one of those corner chances resulted in a goal with 10 minutes, 40 seconds remaining in the half when sophomore forward Maria Jose Pastor, after collecting the ball near the top of the scoring circle off a corner hit from teammate Maggie Metress, drilled a sizzling ground ball past the Western Branch goal tender and into the box for the game’s first goal.
The fired-up Bruins continued to play well the remainder of the half and carried the 1-0 lead into halftime.
But a different Western Branch team took the field in the second half. The visitors began making some hard rushes of their own on offense early in the half and increased the pressure as the half wore on. Lake Braddock, it appeared, was playing in a defensive mindset as Western Branch gained more and more control of the game.
"We had a good first half but just couldn’t find the momentum and adjust to their [improved] play in the second half," said Froede. "We were back on our heels a lot and not rushing the ball."
Western Branch tied the game with just over 15 minutes remaining on a close-range tip-in score by Alexandra Nicole Darrow off the left side following a hard knock into the goal area by a teammate from the right. The momentum had clearly turned.
Less than 5 minutes later, Western Branch scored again, shocking the partisan home crowd, to take a lead with 10:25 left to play. The score held and Lake Braddock had lost.
"I thought we played a great first half," said Miller. "They came alive in the second half. We kind of slowed down a little. Once they scored those two goals we were kind of [in trouble]. We hadn’t been in that situation [often] before. I told the kids after the game, ‘I’m proud of you, it was a great season. Someone had to lose.’"
Miller spoke of how proud she was of this year’s team.
"They were very dedicated, devoted and wanted to win," she said. "They did everything they could do to win this season. They didn’t hang their heads, they worked hard in practice. And the team parents were great. I can’t complain. This has been a great year."