HUDSON — She didn’t lose confidence.
But Hudson first-year head girls lacrosse coach Kyra Maludy didn’t feel particularly cozy, either.
"It was very close," she said. "It was scary."
In the end, Maludy could take a deep breath and enjoy the scenery.
Her Explorers just aced their biggest exam of the season.
Host Hudson improved to 3-0 in 2019 after earning a 13-7 victory over Chagrin Falls Saturday at Hudson Memorial Stadium.
The match went back and forth for much of the way until the Explorers took control in the final 12-plus minutes.
Hudson scored five unanswered goals during that time frame against a squad that reached the 2018 Division II state title match.
For awhile, though, the Explorers, who have reached the state semifinals seven times in their illustrious history, didn’t look like themselves against a very patient and very disciplined Tigers’ squad.
"We knew what we needed to do," Maludy said. "We were making some mistakes on our end that wasn’t the Hudson lacrosse we love to talk about."
The Explorers got their vaunted offense going when it mattered most. Hudson also won the critical draws down the stretch.
For awhile, though, an Explorer running with a ball in her stick near Chagrin Falls’ cage was a rare sight.
The Tigers won a number of draws in the first half. Whenever a Chagrin Falls’ player had the ball, she proved very reluctant to give it away.
"Leaving it on our defensive end for a very long time, that was really killing us," Maludy said. "We really had to get it going on the attack.
"We said, ‘Just breathe. Take a second, let’s give our defense a break.’ That mentality really gives our girls the opportunity to start getting ahead because it’s not a forced shot."
The Hudson players took their coach’s advice and allowed the air to expel in and out of their lungs.
As a result, the Tigers couldn’t stop them the rest of the way.
Senior attacker Kendall Paltani scored off an assist from senior midfielder Mary Castrigano to give the Explorers a 9-7 lead with 12 minutes, 30 seconds remaining in the match.
Hudson didn’t relinquish its lead the rest of the way.
Castrigano found the cage a little more than a minute later and then sophomore midfielder Jamison Cart and Paltani put the finishing touches on the Explorers’ late onslaught in a span of less than 90 seconds.
Just like that, the Chagrin Falls’ players had the rug pulled out from under them in the blink of an eye.
"It just clicked," Maludy said. "We relaxed; we let things go. We have great connections.
"Our team chemistry is really awesome. We all know we can rely on each other really well."
Paltani scored a match-high five goals and added an assist. Junior attacker Maggie Palumbo was lethal as both a playmaker and a finisher. Palumbo finished with three goals and four assists.
Castrigano finished with two assists and junior midfielder Sarah Hinkle, sophomore midfielders Jamison Cart and Emily Ritenour and freshman midfielder Peyton Farley each had one goal.
Farley also had a fancy behind-the-back shot that was somehow saved by senior goalie Celeste Bunker in the first half.
"Peyton Farley is going to be a star by her senior year," Maludy said. "She has great stickwork. She’s going to be phenomenal."
Junior defender Mia Becker scooped up a team-high six ground balls and junior goalie Addie Judson finished with nine saves, including two point-blank, free-position shots in the final minute for Hudson.
Junior midfielder Anna Gellin and freshman midfielder Anna Gellin scored three times apiece and senior attack Kelly Wynveen added one goal for the Tigers, whose possession attack slowed down the Explorers’ potent offense for more than 35 minutes.
Of course, that wasn’t a particularly bad thing, according to Maludy.
"They [the Tigers] certainly like to push the fast break," she said. "I think we did an amazing job stopping that.
"Some of the info we got was, if they don’t get a fast break, they take a really long time on their settled attack because it’s not as successful as their fast break."
Chagrin Falls also had the ultimate force field to neutralize Hudson’s powerful offense.
Bunker made save after save throughout the afternoon and was particularly formidable on shots from close range.
"She’s very tall," Maludy said of Bunker. "She’s just a physically big presence in the goal. I was a goalie in college, so I get into my attackers’ mentalities of how to beat goalies based off of the goalie mindset.
"One of the big things we worked on the last couple practices was, ‘All right. She’s big; she’s tall. That top shelf in the goal, that’s off limits. You guys aren’t shooting there.’"
Prior to Saturday’s contest, the Explorers steamrolled against a pair of overmatched opponents.
Hudson’s latest adversary, on the other hand, was a much more daunting one with a roster full of talent.
It’s safe to say the Explorers mastered this imposing challenge rather beautifully.
"It was our first big competition," Maludy said. "We kind of knew coming in that it was going to be a hard battle. I think we rose to the challenge."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.