Lakeland cruises in state semis

Published 11:12 pm Tuesday, November 10, 2009

RICHMOND — For most of Tuesday’s VHSL Group AAA State Tournament quarterfinal, it looked quite similar to any other field hockey match of the season for the Lakeland Lady Cavaliers.

Facing Central Region champion Thomas Dale at Maggie Walker Governor’s School, Lakeland took the lead with Jennifer Hedrick’s goal in the 14th minute and went on to a 2-0 win. Lakeland moves on to the state semifinals to be played Friday afternoon at the U.S. Field Hockey National Training Center.

The biggest concern the Lady Cavaliers faced in the quarterfinal contest might have been the playing surface. The field was grass and provided a number of tricky hops, especially inside each scoring arc, where the grass gave way to barren dirt patches.

“It was a really ugly game. I asked my team, right after the game, was that fun to play, because it wasn’t much fun to watch,” said Lakeland head coach Tara Worley.

Lakeland, which played most of its matches for the last month on artificial turf in Virginia Beach or on the well-kept grass fields at Lakeland or Nansemond River, still put pressure on Thomas Dale right from the start, making the playing field problem more a nuisance rather than anything that could change the outcome of the match.

After totaling five shots and a pair of penalty corners in the opening minutes, the Lady Cavaliers made their third corner of the match pay off.

Kelsey Smither started the action in front of the cage with a hard drive from a step inside the arc on the left wing. Kendell Combs tipped the ball across the goal mouth and Hedrick was running in toward the right post to lunge and poke the ball into the cage.

Following the go-ahead goal for Lakeland, Thomas Dale answered with one of its best stretches of play. Most of the next 10 minutes was a midfield battle. Lakeland began going back on the attack in the closing minutes of the half and a second goal before the half would’ve been huge.

Meanwhile, despite working hard to keep Lakeland’s attack at bay after Hedrick’s goal, the Lady Knights had no shots in the first half.

“Our gameplan was to come out strong and get on the scoreboard quickly,” said Worley.

Lakeland got the critical insurance goal 6:25 into the second half, capitalizing on another corner.

Megan Johnson kept an errant pass alive and put it back into the arc for Smither to take a shot just to the left of the penalty spot and score. Smither only had time to push the ball toward the cage, but her shot still had enough pace to beat the keeper.

“I felt we dominated most of the game. I felt we were controlling things pretty well. It was only at the end of the game where I was a little nervous,” said Worley.

Thomas Dale’s only big offensive threats came in the last four minutes.

The Lady Knights gained a corner as the clock ticked toward 2:00 left and Lakeland goalie Marissa Betkowski came up with three saves as she had to slide quickly from post to post for the second and third stops. Betkowski finished with six saves, five coming in the last four minutes.

Lakeland outshot Thomas Dale 20-7 and had an 11-4 advantage in corners.

Lakeland (20-2) returns to very familiar surroundings, and the artificial turf, of the U.S. Field Hockey National Training Center for the semifinals on Friday at 3 p.m.