Hereford High senior JD Nozemack scored five goals and added three assists to lead the Bulls (17-2) to a 13-3 victory over Damascus (13-3) in the Class 2A state semifinals at Northeast High on a windy and rainy Friday night.
Grafton Griffey added three goals and Harry Traynor and Gavin Schatall had two each for the winners, who advanced to the state championship game against Saturday’s winner of Marriotts Ridge and Kent Island.
While Nozemack was the scoring standout, he deflected the praise onto faceoff specialist Connor Dunay.
“It all started at the faceoff X and Connor Dunay played incredible there,” Nozemack said.
As good as Dunay was there, winning 15 of 21 faceoffs, the Bulls rides were even better.
Along with a defense, that included long poles Troy Tuveson, Scott Middleton, Will Reott and Sam Wannamaker, in front of goalie John Talbott, they held the Hornets without a shot attempt in the first quarter.
Damascus’s first four clears failed and when they did get it over midfield, Hereford forced turnovers.
“Even the ones that they cleared were difficult,” Hereford coach Sal Picataggi said. “Our ride was top-notch tonight. We only used one, we have a bunch of them, we picked the right one to get going and we stayed in it.”
“We work on one guy pressures the goalie and the other two drop back and we work on doubling when the ball comes up closer to midfield and it seems to work,” Nozemack said.
The Bulls offense started slowly in the first quarter when they dominated time of possession, but only led 3-0.
Griffey scored the first goal, off of Nozemack’s assist, and Gavin Schattall and Nozemack followed with unassisted tallies.
The Bulls exploded in the second quarter with eight goals and Nozemack was involved in five of them, with three goals and two assists.
“The middies were finding me and I was able to come around,” Nozemack said. “In the first quarter I had a little trouble finishing, but in the second quarter I was able to start finishing.”
Damascus didn’t attempt its first shot until 47 seconds into the second quarter and it was saved by Talbott.
Just 25 seconds later, Nozemack made it 4-0 after a feed from Schattall.
Nozemack assisted Traynor with 6:16 left in the second quarter and less than two minutes later Nozemack scored the highlight goal of the night when he weaved and spun through three defenders and scored while falling down to make it 6-0.
Middleton assisted Nozemack for the Bulls seventh straight goal, before Damascus finally got on board with 3:35 left in the half when Luke Coffman scored off James Petrolle’s assist.
Hereford responded with four straight goals. Jake Furman, Traynor, Griffey and Schattall had the tallies.
Nozemack, Nico DiNenna and Dunay had assists during the 4-0 run.
“The offense was able to finish in the second quarter, in the first quarter we were just hitting the goalie and missing too many shots,” Nozemack said.
Damascus got the final goal of the first half when John Shollenberger scored with 18 seconds left, but they only got one more the rest of the way.
That came from Nick Mohardt in the third quarter.
Hereford ended its scoring with unassisted goals in the fourth quarter by Griffey and Nozemack.
Nozemack, who will play at Monmouth University next year, has one more game left in his career and that pains Picataggi.
“I’m sad that I have only one more game left with him and it’s the biggest one,” Picataggi said. “JD is definitely one of our leaders and he’s one of our captains and he’s our offensive go-to, but you know he makes everyone around him better.”
Nozemack is just happy to get to the final game.
“We lost in the semis the past three years, so it’s nice to get over that hump and we’ve got one more, so we’ve got to finish that and end on a high note,” he said.
Rainy and windy conditions, like Friday night, won’t bother Picataggi.
“We are mudders, we go out like those horses at the Preakness tomorrow, some of them are better in the mud, some are not, we’re fine,” he said. “We’ll go play somewhere in the park, the street, the gravel, on sand, we don’t care.”
He doesn’t know who the opponent will be in the championship game, but expects it to be tough.
“Whoever we play from the other side is going to be a great game, Marriott’s Ridge is awesome and Kent Island is great, so it’s going to be about us playing our game plan and our execution and when we’ve done that all year we’ve come out on top,” he said. “We play our game, we feel good that we are going to be in good shape in that game.”
Hereford will be going for its 10th state title and first since they won its sixth straight in 2013.
In 2014, they lost in the state finals, but were eliminated in the state semifinals the past three seasons.
“These guys have been around,” Picataggi said. “This senior group, a bunch of them have been starting for me for three or four years and I’m glad we got to this point now and we are not just happy to be there.”