HUDSON — They broke Shaker Heights’ hearts last season.
This time, the Red Raiders returned the favor against the Explorers.
The second-seeded Hudson field hockey team’s stellar 2019 season came to an end after losing a 3-0 decision to top-seeded Shaker in a state-tournament qualifying match Saturday at Western Reserve Academy.
With the win, the Red Raiders (18-1), which finished undefeated in the Northeast Ohio Field Hockey League, returned to the Final Four after a one-year hiatus.
The Explorers, who reached the state title match in 2018, finished 14-5.
Shaker also ended Hudson’s 26-match winning streak against NEOFHL opponents during the regular season. The Red Raiders posted a 2-0 win at Shaker.
"They’re a very good team," Explorers’ second-year head coach Louise Knox said. "They play a similar style of play that we play. Although we were not maintaining the possession as well as we have in the previous games, the effort, the positive communication and giving 100 percent were always there.
"That’s all I would expect of them. Control the controllables: to play your best, to play together and lean on each other on the field so you can move the ball forward and play to the whistle."
On Saturday, the Red Raiders controlled possession most of the way. Shaker gave Hudson’s defense fits throughout the afternoon.
However, the Red Raiders, who lost to Hudson 1-0 in a state-qualifying match last year in Gates Mills, couldn’t find the finishing touch with their sticks. As a result, the match remained scoreless at halftime.
Unfortunately for the Explorers, the second half was a much different story.
Senior forward/midfielder Lora Clarke, who recently made a verbal commitment to attend the University of Michigan, got Shaker on the board a little more than four minutes into the second half.
Clarke, who sliced and diced Hudson’s defense throughout the match, thanks to her nifty stick-handling and precise passing, found the goal moments after a free hit.
Clarke smashed a backhand bullet into the back post of the goal from the left side. She also played a role in the Red Raiders’ second goal a little more than three minutes later.
"The team has worked really hard," said Shaker head coach Jennifer Clarke, who is Lora’s mother. "We’ve worked hard with Lora to trust her teammates and get everyone to trust each other. This year, the big focus was team 40, which is how long Shaker has been in the OHSAA [Ohio High School Athletic Association]. A really important aspect this year is team field hockey."
Clarke’s hard shot was deflected, but the ball landed near the stick of teammate Eliza Bennett. The junior forward put it in the goal from there to make it 2-0.
The Red Raiders got the dagger with a tick less than 11 minutes remaining.
Bennett found Maggie Carter, who blasted a shot into the goal from point-blank range.
After the match, Lora Clarke paid tribute to her opponent. The two teams have made trips to the district final a regular occurrence for what seems like forever.
"I do think Hudson is a special opponent," Coach Clarke said. "They’re a rivalry. How many years have we been in the district final together?
"There’s an utmost respect for Hudson field hockey. It’s a great program. We respect them. They come in hungry and wanting to play."
Although the floodgates were opened after halftime, the Explorers’ defense, led by senior goaltender Sadie Mrakuzic and senior defender Cameron Rohwedder, did all it could to keep Hudson in the match.
Mrakuzic made 15 saves, including some acrobatic stops with her feet, and Rohwedder forced several turnovers deep in Explorers’ territory.
"As they’ve shown all season, they’re poised players," Knox said. "They worked hard. They gave all they had on the field [Saturday]."
Shaker goalie Athena Vadnal, on the other hand, wasn’t nearly as overwhelmed. She finished with four saves.
The Red Raiders had a 12-6 edge in penalty corners and a commanding 18-4 advantage in shots on goal.
It was the final match for Mrakuzic, Rohwedder and fellow Hudson seniors Katherine Moloney (forward), Samantha Spooner (midfielder), Faith Donatelli (midfielder/defender), Reilly Timko (forward), Reese Stiller (midfielder) and Adeline Judson (midfielder/forward).
"They know that although the season is over, the relationship isn’t," Knox said. "The friendship and support will always be there. They’re always a part of Hudson field hockey."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, email@example.com or @FrankAceto_RPC.