Boys’ Latin coach Don Rickels had a message for his Laker soccer squad on the first day of practice. He told his team, “In order to go to the championship game, you’ve got to go through St. Paul’s.”
The visiting fourth-seeded Lakers (13-5-1 overall, 12-4-1 conference) did just that on Thursday afternoon with a 2-1 triumph over the top-seeded Crusaders (16-7, 15-2) in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference soccer semifinals.
Boys’ Latin got a pair of second half goals from Maxx Lowenstein and held off a furious Crusader charge down the stretch for the victory over its rival.
The first goal came after a 70-yard free kick from Aaron Leeds and the second was off a rebounded shot from 25 yards out.
Illyas Mirza’s late penalty kick was the lone St. Paul’s tally.
Boys’ Latin will face Severn in the championship game on Sunday, Nov. 10 at Stevenson University. Severn defeated Friends, 3-1 in the other semifinal.
This will be the ninth trip to the finals in Rickels’ 12 seasons and the Lakers will be gunning for their seventh title.
St. Paul’s owns six B Conference titles and one each in the A and C conferences.
Last week, the Gators defeated the Lakers, 3-0. Earlier in the year they blanked them 1-0.
“We played them last week and we were definitely not ready,” said Leeds, who was part of a strong backfield with Hunter Moreland, Liam Burman and Colin Porter and goalie Parker Yablon. “Coach really stressed that we need to be first to the balls and play with the same intensity they did (last week).”
Lowenstein agreed the intensity level was higher.
“It was determination and teamwork,” Lowenstein said. “We all put 110 percent into every ball, every possession and that was teamwork I’ve never seen happen before.”
But, it was the Crusaders who had the strongest scoring chance in the first half, when a sideline run by speedy Juwan Kearson led to a shot by Gavin Norris that appeared to carom off a defender’s arm in the box, but the play continued and Yablon corralled the rebound shot.
BL’s best chance came on a shot by Lowenstein, after he intercepted a clear with 14:08 remaining, but his shot from 10 yards out went wide.
St. Paul’s defense of Alex McGovern, Andrew Nelson, David Wetzel and B.J. Matheiss and goalie Pat Buttarazzi was equally as strong in the first half, but the Crusaders often settled for long shots.
“They are a very physical team and very direct and one of there biggest game plans is to throw us off our rhythm,” St. Paul’s coach Dan Skelton said. “Today, we struggled getting the rhythm and were having a difficult time with distribution and ultimately we just never really found ourselves today and BL did a phenomenal job defensively.”
It was the defense that eventually created the first goal after a tangle in the BL defensive corner led to a free kick — 100 yards away from the Crusader goal.
Hardly a threat for a scoring chance — until Deeds drilled a ball that soared over the defense to Lowenstein and the speedster from Owings Mills did the rest.
“I saw Maxx and we made eye contact I just sent him off,” Deeds said. “We’ve been doing that the whole season.”
Less than a minute after the goal, St. Paul’s John Clemons had a shot on goal that was blocked by defender Burman.
Another chance from outside by Matheiss was punched away by Yablon.
St. Paul’s had three more scoring chances on corner kicks, that came up empty including one shot from McGovern from point blank range that went into Yablon’s bread basket.
Boys’ Latin’s Lowenstein got his second goal after Crusader keeper Buttarazzi came way out wide to make a stellar save.
But the rebound caromed right to Lowenstein in the center of the field.
“I just kept my head down and looked for the open part of the goal and shot,” Lowenstein said.
The penalty kick goal with under seven minutes left by Mirza was also extra-ordinary.
Yablon saved the first attempt right back to Mirza, and then saved the second attempt back to him again, until the junior finally deposited it with his third shot.
Yablon had stopped two previous penalty kicks this season, including one against the Crusaders last week.
“He has an innate ability to guess correct,” Rickels said. “He knows where the guy is going.”
Both teams seemed to have strong familiarity with each other and that doesn’t surprise Rickels.
“They are like brothers,” Rickels said. “They have grown up together, played on the same club teams and in rec councils together and they hang out on weekends together. I’ve said for years you could put a Boys’ Latin jersey on them and a St. Paul’s jersey on us and we’d have the same kid. They are great kids and they work hard and we respect them and that’s why the rivalry is so great because ultimately we respect each other.”