Nov. 11 is Lexi Butler’s birthday, but this year there was something a bit more important she had to do on that day.
The senior forward had to help the Pocomoke high school field hockey team advance to 1A Final of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association playoffs. To do that, Butler and the Warriors would have to outmuscle a tough team from Carroll County, the Manchester Valley Mavericks.
“I just knew we had to come out with everything we had,” Butler said. “We put confidence in ourselves and we had to give 110 percent the whole time like Mrs. Pusey taught us.”
155 miles from Pocomoke City, Butler’s leadership and goal-scoring abilities were on display Wednesday at Paint Branch High School and she helped guide the Warriors to their first state final appearance since 2011. The Warriors topped the Mavericks 3-0, and Butler put her team on the scoreboard first by putting a penalty stroke in the back of the cage.
Dani Batze padded the Warriors’ lead early in the second half when, after receiving a pass from Kasey Lee, she fired a shot from about six yards out that rattled the cage before landing softly in the corner of it. That Pocomoke goal was scored around the 23rd minute mark in the second half and nearly 20 minutes later, the Warriors struck gold again when Lee scored off an assist from Peyton Becker.
“If anything we’re strategic shooters and sometimes we have to remind ourselves that we can’t play the adrenaline,” Warriors’ head coach Brandi Castaneda said. “Sometimes you have to stop your momentum and make sure you’re making a strategic shot. We were knocking on the door the whole game and we delivered.”
The Warriors had controlled much of the possession for the majority of the first half. The Mavericks didn’t touch the ball for the first nine minutes.
Pocomoke was getting chances at shots-on-goal, with many of those opportunities coming via penalty corners, but all of their shots were sailing wide or being swiped away by Manchester Valley’s keeper, junior Jacie Wood. The Warriors had 11 penalty corners throughout the game.
But just when the fans thought that momentum was shifting, after three straight penalty corners and a near goal for the Mavericks, the Warriors broke through. Near the six-minute mark in the first half, one official signaled for a penalty stroke.
It was unclear what the call was, but that part was irrelevant. The only thing that mattered was if Butler could put a shot past the Mavericks’ keeper.
And she did.
Butler’s shot went right towards Wood’s right shoulder. It deflected off the keeper and landed in the back of the cage to give the Warriors a much needed lead.
“I just think about shooting towards the corners and I have to have confidence in myself and say, ‘Okay, I got this,’” Butler said. “I just try not to let the pressure affect me.”
Pocomoke continued to control the possession in the second half, but for as well as the Warriors’ offense played, the defense may have been better. The Mavericks held possession a lot more in the second half, but the Warriors’ stout defense was able to keep them from scoring.
The Mavericks had eight penalty corners total throughout the game, but the Warriors’ keeper Domanique Farrace halted any shot that got past her defense. It’s the Warrior defense’s ninth shutout of the year.
The Warriors’ field hockey team has claimed 18 state championships in their history and 16 of those teams were coached by Susan Pusey who tragically died this summer. Her last state championship win came in 2010.
As the Warriors celebrated on the sidelines of Paint Branch high school, their family, friends and fans, who had traveled more than two hours to watch them play, stood behind them on the bleachers and cheered. In front of them, several banners hung, one of which read, “PUSEY STRONG.”
“It’s fair to say that this team is Pusey-fueled,” Castaneda said. “We’re here to defend her honor in all that we do. The whole town, community and extended Warrior family is behind us.”
Although Pusey is no longer here, any Pocomoke player, coach or fan would say that this season is for her. On Saturday at Washington College at 6:30 p.m., the Warriors will play for their 19th state title as a school, Castaneda will coach for her first title, but her and the players are all working towards honoring Pusey.
“We’re ready to bring it home for her,” Butler said.