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Second-half burst puts Air Academy past ThunderRidge and into girls' lacrosse semis
A six-goal run in the second half broke open a tight game and allowed the Air Academy girls’ lacrosse team to earn a berth in the state semifinals with an 18-12 quarterfinal victory over ThunderRidge on Wednesday evening at Air Academy.
Leading 7-6, Miranda Beal made a power move at the top of the arc and beat ThunderRidge goalie Grace Goodbarn low to give the Kadets a two-goal advantage with 20:47 remaining. Over the next 10:01, Air Academy added scores by Kaley Holmes, Natalie Berg, Erin Todd and two by Jessica Berg.
“In the early part of the game they were settling in and playing a really relaxed, heels-on-the-eight kind of defense, which is where they sag back and keep it in real tight,” Air Academy coach Sean Harmon said.
The solution for that tactic was patience and passing. Eventually, the Grizzlies were forced to expand defensively.
“They came out and that allowed us to open up our offense a little more,” Harmon said. “When they press out, we have some really outstanding dodgers and were able to take advantage of that.”
That passive defense, combined with Air Academy’s effectiveness on the draws, kept the ball in the ThunderRidge zone for much of the game — even when it was close.
“Everything started in the beginning with the draw with Kaley Holmes,” Harmon said. “I don’t know how many draws she got, but that possession right off the draw there is one of the most important things in girls’ lacrosse now. She’s really good at it.”
Harmon also singled out the team’s play in transition as a key.
“We knew that they were a very good offensive transition team,” he said. “That is their forte and that’s kind of a weakness on our side but we’ve been working at it and I thought we did really good today.”
Air Academy goes into Saturday’s semifinal matchup against Kent Denver riding a 10-game winning streak. The Kadets (17-2) haven’t lost since April 11, when they dropped a nonconference decision to Carondelet out of Concord, Calif.
Air Academy has faced Kent Denver in the state playoffs in each of the past three seasons with the Kadets winning twice (2011 and 2009).
Todd finished the game with five goals and three assists, while Beal had four goals and two assists and Jessica Berg had three goals.
Meredith Micho and Abby Szlachta led ThunderRidge (13-4) with three goals each.
During the state tournament so far this season, the higher-ranked team has won every game. That’s bad news for Air Academy, which entered the tournament as the No. 3 seed, when it faces second-seeded Kent Denver.
“There are things to work on,” Todd said, “but the good thing is we have an opportunity to work toward Saturday and hopefully make it to the finals.”