It was hot. It was tense. And the game was on the line.
That was the scene of a scoreless 15 final minutes in one of the area’s fastest-growing rivalries in one the nation’s fastest growing sports when the Indian River High School girls’ lacrosse team took on Sussex Academy last Friday, April 28.
With the Indians leading 9-8 and time left in the back-and-forth battle nearing extinction, the Seahawks would manage one last chance to tie things up when sophomore midfielder Clara Elliot brought the ball down on a fast break to find an open teammate for a last-ditch attempt on the far pipe with 21 seconds left.
But after racking up six saves to keep the ’Hawks off the board in the second half alone, IR junior goalkeeper Mya Parks was ready for one more, coming through in the clutch to seal the 9-8 victory and unofficial Henlopen South title for the Indians as the celebration ensued.
“I did my 10, and then I stepped out, waited and then I kind of just chucked it,” said Parks of getting the ball to IR junior midfielder Delaney Brannon to run out the final seconds after her late-game stop.
“Mya came up huge today,” added IR head coach Kelsea Ayers. “We practiced that exact same scenario yesterday in practice. We knew Mya needed her to have a big game in order for us to win, and she did.”
It was the Indians who had struck first in the game held in Georgetown, when Erin Haden got the ball to her twin sister and fellow IR senior midfielder, Lexi Haden, who darted downfield for a score from up top less than two minutes into regulation.
“We were being smarter about our passes today,” said Lexi Haden. “Our plays were working out great. We definitely were able to move the ball and held it when we needed to, for the most part.”
Lexi Haden would add her second of six eventual scores on the day on a penalty shot just under three minutes later, but the Seahawks would answer when freshman midfielder Bella Kwan took her defender around the crease for a score to cut the lead to 2-1.
Sussex Academy sophomore attacker Phoebe Baker would net the equalizer from up top a few minutes later, but after making the move to midfielder from defense for the game, Brannon would find IR junior midfielder Helen Davis off the next draw to give the Indians back a one-goal lead.
“Delaney came in really clutch. We needed her to play midfielder today, and she came in and did a really great job,” said Ayers, noting that her squad had only three subs to navigate the game, which saw temperatures in the upper 80s.
“We needed a timeout with around seven minutes to go, and we just couldn’t do it. If I had more than one timeout, I would have called it. But at the same time, we practice for that. We work hard every day at practice without any subs, to be ready for these types of situations.”
After a goal from Brannon put the Indians up 5-2, the Seahawks managed to tie things back up once again on another score from Kwan and back-to-back goals manufactured by Kelsey Smith from behind the cage, before IR took an eventual 6-5 lead into the break.
The Indians jumped out to a fast 9-5 lead, but three unanswered goals from freshman attacker Mackenzie Cummings, Martiner and Smith closed the gap to 9-8 with just over 15 minutes to go.
That’s when key saves from Parks and SA sophomore goalkeeper Grace Scott, and forced turnovers on fast breaks by IR defenders Zofia Czyzewski and Sara Saylor kept things scoreless as the Indians hung on for the eventual win.
“We knew that we weren’t coming out to the team that we faced last year. We knew we had to give our best, and that’s what we did,” said Haden of the win that snapped a two-game losing streak for the Indians. “It’s definitely nice to have a comeback game.”
“Lexi had a really big game. Helen was crucial off-ball today. Sarandon [Slebodnick] was crucial out wide — she hustled every single time to the restraining line,” added Ayers. “Overall, start to finish, it was our best overall hustle through and through. It was great to see some of the younger players pushing themselves and having standout games.”
With only two schools with girls’ lacrosse programs in the Henlopen South, there is no official division title, but that doesn’t take away from the rivalry now spanning three years after both schools added J.V. programs in 2015 and varsity programs last season.
“We’re the only two teams in the South, so it is a huge rivalry,” said Ayers. “There’s no title, but you still want to win it. Most of these girls all know each other. When you’re playing against your friends, it always adds to it a little bit.”
The win improved the Indians to 3-6 on the season, while the Seahawks fell to 4-5 overall — one up on their 2016 win total during their inaugural varsity season.
Goals: IR - L. Haden (6), D. Brannon (2), H. Davis (1); SA - K. Smith (3), B. Kwan (2), M. Martiner (2), P. Baker (1)
Assists: IR - E. Haden (1), K. Hall (1); SA - B. Kwan (1), M. Martiner (1)
Saves: IR - M.Parks (9); SA - G. Scott (8)