When Caitlin Baker geared up to take an overtime shot during Mclean High’s non-district home game against South County on Sept. 23, Highlander head coach Summer Vanni was pretty confident her team was on the verge of winning.
Sure enough, Baker, from near the top of the scoring circle, sent a scorching shot past the Stallions’ goal keeper and into the net for the game-winner in McLean’s 4-3 win. The victory snapped a two-game McLean losing streak and served as a little payback against a South County team that had eliminated the Highlanders at last year’s Northern Region tournament.
Baker’s goal came about three minutes into the overtime session. A loose ball had come her way during a McLean rush, setting up the score.
“She was there, and `bam,’ one shot and it was in,” said Vanni, of Baker’s winning goal. “It was one of those goals that just echoed.”
It was a step-up play by Baker, a McLean senior tri-captain and her team’s leading scorer. The Highlanders, following losses to tough opponents St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes and Madison the week before, were in danger of losing their third straight. McLean had trailed South County in the first half, 3-0, before rallying for three goals to force OT. There, the Highlanders came through with a fourth consecutive score to notch the dramatic win.
For certain, Baker has a sizzling shot.
“I would put her up against anyone in the region as far as [shot] speed and velocity,” said Vanni. “If she has the ball [in scoring position] she will shoot it. She’s fantastic. In my mind she’s a [future] Division 1 [college] player all the way.”
Baker, who also plays basketball and competes in track and field at McLean, was named her school’s Female `Athlete of the Year’ last year as a junior. Last fall, she earned First Team All-District honors in field hockey.
“She is one of the best conditioned athletes I’ve seen,” said Vanni, of Baker. “She’s a competitor and she wants to win, and will do anything she has to. She leads by example and is really a coach’s dream.”
<b>MCLEAN</b>, with the win over County, improved to 9-5 on the season. The Highlanders play at Liberty District opponent Marshall on Wednesday (Sept. 30) of this week. The team’s next home game is Oct. 8 against Fairfax.
Vanni credited her three senior tri-captains –midfielders Baker and Maddy Parkhurst, and forward Casey Alexander, with helping keep the Highlanders on an even-keel following their losses to St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes and Madison. The Saints, who beat the Highlanders 3-0, are one of the tougher private school teams in the metropolitan area. The setback to district opponent Madison, a 4-2 defeat, was tougher to handle because McLean had led 2-0 at one point.
“We had a tough week,” said Vanni. “We had a couple of girls out [with illnesses]. We played probably our worst game [against the Saints]. After the Madison game they came off the field very emotional because they had given it their all.”
Against South County, McLean fell behind 3-0 before getting onto the scoreboard on a goal by Jamie Bell with five minutes remaining in the first half. In the second half, the Highlanders received scores from Kristina Bettner and Alexander to force the seven-on-seven overtime.
“We’d set our sights on making a comeback against South County,” said the coach, of bouncing back from the two defeats. “My captains were very instrumental in our stepping up. It was an awesome game Hopefully, it will [act as a] turnaround for us. South County has a fantastic team. We lost to them in last year’s region quarterfinals, 4-2.”
Vanni said McLean’s defense, led by senior Johanna Morrison, junior Mary D’Alesandro, and goalie Sarah Park, has been outstanding this season.
“You can’t discount our defense,” said Vanni. “Some of the girls back there have been fantastic.”