Calvert Hall junior defenseman Garrett Epple admitted to being "a little scared" when he realized that he and the Cardinals would confront archrival Loyola Blakefield for the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship.
He settled down, however, when he figured that his team would be well prepared to erase some unpleasant memories — including losses in the 1987 and '89 title games — in previous championship encounters with the Dons.
That said, neither he nor any Cardinal players, fans or coaches could have prepared him for what happened Friday night in the showdown at Johnny Unitas Stadium in front of 5,684 fans.
Calvert Hall 17, Loyola 3.
Even seeing it in print, it's difficult to comprehend, especially considering what transpired in the semifinals.
Loyola (16-4) looked like the best team standing by the way it crushed an excellent Gilman squad, 13-7, while Calvert Hall (16-2) was being nearly caught from behind by Boys' Latin before surviving, 11-10.
The Lakers' output matched the what three of the Cardinals' final four rivals, St. Paul's, Mount St. Joseph and Loyola, combined to score against a spectacular defense that allowed an average of 5.1 goals per game this season. It was only the second time this spring that an opponent managed double-digit goals against the Cardinals.
Even with those stingy stats in mind, holding Loyola to three goals seemed next to impossible after watching the Dons dismantle Gilman with a withering 10-0 opening run.
"We made a big statement," Epple said after the Cardinals' fourth consecutive win over Loyola. "And Dimirti (Pecunes) stopped any momentum they were looking to get early."
Pecunes, a senior goalie headed to Stevenson University, was a rock between the pipes, making several of his 10 saves in the early going when the Cardinals were slowly putting distance between themselves and the Dons.
Fellow longstick, senior Evan Connell, also credited Pecunes for being "unstoppable" in the crease and added that the presence of senior Garrett Flannery on the close defense made it difficult for Loyola shooters to get good looks at the cage.
"Garrett is a great inside guy, and he's great at sliding," Connell said. "He did a great job after not starting much this year."
Shortsticks John Belz, Kelton Black and Gerry Greaney were part of an overall smothering effort that neutralized Loyola's major threats.
Don't forget senior goalie Jack Brust, who was replaced earlier in the year by Pecunes, making two saves in the fourth quarter when Calvert Hall coach Bryan Kelly began emptying his bench.
"We just played great team defense," Epple said.
And a little offense, too, when Connell scored after digging out a groundball at the midline and beating several the Dons down the field to bury a shot past Loyola senior goalie Chris Thomas.
That made it, 7-2, with 3:10 left in the third quarter and seemed to break Loyola's back.
"We had a plan and we stuck to it," said Kelly, a defenseman on the '87 team that bowed to the Dons. "The kids were mentally prepared. We told them to live like a champion."
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