At season’s end, only one team earns the privilege to toss their sticks in the sky and embrace with joy. And for the Winston Churchill Bulldogs, it might not hurt so much if they weren’t on the opposing bench watching their opponents celebrate at their expense for a third straight season.
On Saturday, the Crofton Cardinals defeated the Bulldogs 5-0 in the Maryland 4A Field Hockey State title.
As the game ended, Bulldogs senior Emma Datch embraced junior Jenna Pigott at midfield. The joy of playing with one another swirled with the heartbreak of losing one game from championship glory.
“I have been playing with Jenna since I started playing field hockey and she started playing field hockey in about seventh grade,” Datch said. “And we’ve watched each other grow, we’ve watched each other go through failures and succeed. That was just a really emotional moment. For me, at least, having it be my last high school game with her and with everyone, I think we’ve gotten so close as a team this year. I’m proud of where we’ve gone. It’s just hard that it’s the end.”
Both shared a smile before Pigott picked up the media microphone.
“Definitely a little bit overwhelming,” Pigott said. “But I’m so happy. This is how we went out and we left everything on the field. And there’s no one else I’d rather go to the end with. So, I’m proud of her.”
On the field, both Pigott and Datch were commanding their teammates and each other on in-bound plays, passes and coordinate corner attempts. But with Cardinal goaltender Ryleigh Osborne in net, their attempts were in vain. Osborne’s total shutouts moved to 12 games on the season.
“Oh my goodness, [Osborne] had I think it was like two goal-line saves,” Datch said. She’s great to watch. We knew going into the game that she was a good player but she was so impressive throughout the entire game.”
It wasn’t just Pigott and Datch fighting until the final buzzer sounded. The entire time battled, sprinting after the ball, contending with the Crofton forwards in the circle and hustling. Even in defeat, Bulldogs Head Coach Cay Miller said she was proud of their efforts.
“The scoreboard was getting scary today,” Miller said. “And we still fought until the very last second. And I can’t be more proud of our team. Our captains set the tone here. So, it’s because of their leadership that we’ve got this far. I’m so proud.”
With the final whistle, Datch’s high school career ended; however, she’ll continue playing field hockey as a Davidson Wildcat. Her message to the team?
“I would like the team to remember that we need to take it one game at a time,” Datch said. “We need to work our hardest, no matter who the opposition is. I think sometimes we get into our heads about who we’re going up against. If we remember that we deserve to be in every game that we are in, we deserve the opportunities that we are given.”
For Miller, it’s about scheduling more turf practices.
“We’re a grass team. Our home field is Bermuda grass and it’s a different game than it is on turf,” Miller said. “I’m not making an excuse here, but it does play a factor. So, we’re going to be working on the speed that the game is on turf and conditioning and all the factors that go into making it a higher pace, faster paced game.”
Up next for junior forward Julieta Matus is a self-imposed workload to make it back to the state championship game and help the Bulldogs hoist the state title in 2024.
“I’m personally really excited and pumped to work even harder,” Matus said. “Put in double the time, put in double the effort to come back here and not only come back, but win.”