On Saturday night at Washington College, the Pocomoke Warriors won their 19th field hockey state title.
But they were playing for so much more.
“I can’t describe how it feels,” senior Lexi Butler said. “All our hard work paid off today and we just knew Mrs. Pusey was with us the whole way. We knew she was in our hearts and we just came out here and gave it all we had.”
Playing in their first state championship game in 23 years without the late Susan Pusey on the sidelines, the Warriors took a 2-0 lead into the half behind two goals from Butler and added three more in the second against Patuxent.
“It was so big I can’t put it into words,” senior midfielder Shayla Jones said. “I’m so happy and I know she is looking down on us. That’s what makes it even bigger than it would normally be for a regular state championship.”
Butler’s first goal came on a rebound off the Patuxent goalie after the Warriors dominated offensive possession from the start.
“That was very important,” Warriors coach Brandi Castaneda said. “We were knocking hard, but I think we just needed to find our game in the circle.”
While it took a while for the next score to come, they certainly continued to apply pressure. And the Panthers found it difficult to even get the ball on the Pocomoke end of the field.
Passes were deflected, redirected or just plain stolen in the midfield area.
“It was really important for our forwards and midfielders to cut those balls off,” Jones said. “Stop those balls and our defense wouldn’t have to work so hard.”
They didn’t have to work very hard, but when they did, they quickly diffused any situation. Goalie Domanique Farrace didn’t touch the ball until there was 16:48 left in the first half.
Butler’s second goal gave the Warriors some more breathing room heading into the break and maintained a torrid offensive pace until the clock showed zeros.
“I think after halftime our tension broke,” Castaneda said. “I think the first half was totally tension-filled with nerves. Everything we worked for stood on the line tonight. Did I think we were confident? Yes. But we knew better than to be overconfident and we came out here with the right mindset and left with the right mission being fulfilled at the end.”
The second half brought more of the same play from the Warriors, but they actually seemed to be a little lighter on their feet after the break.
Just 10 minutes into the second half, Butler found McKenzie Beauchamp for a 3-0 lead.
“I think once we score, we get into ‘two minutes,’ ” Beauchamp said. “It’s tradition and that means for two minutes you go as hard as you can and you try to get a goal in two minutes. Once we get one goal it pumps us up to get more and that is our drive.”
It wasn’t two minutes, but it wasn’t long, and this time Dani Batze made it 4-0 with 14 minutes to go in the game.
By the time the last goal was scored with just minutes remaining, the Warriors were crashing the net in waves. It was Beauchamp who scored among three other teammates for the final tally.
When the final seconds ticked away, it set off a tear-filled celebration that continued even after the stadium lights had been turned down.
It was a moment they didn’t want to end.
“They have done Pusey proud the whole time,” Castaneda said. “They have pulled through in every way. They have succeeded have exceeded what they set out to do — and they did that tonight.”
The chant in the post-game huddle rang out louder and more clearly into the night than any time this season on Saturday.
But when the time came that the team has let loose the red heart-shaped Mylar balloon that represented its departed coach, they just tied it to the championship trophy instead.
And that was fitting.
“It’s going to be there for a long time because this championship is hers,” Castaneda said. “We dedicated the season to her from the very beginning. She absolutely prescribed that we would be here and we just did what we had to do necessary to push through.”
“She was absolutely right about every young lady on this field and their potential and their talent.”
“They are amazing.”
On Twitter @ShawnYonker