After knocking Long Reach out of the playoffs last year, Centennial knew the Lightning would be extra motivated on Thursday for the county opener between the two squads.
Instead of sitting back and letting the Lightning dictate things, though, Centennial decided it was going to be the aggressor from the get go.
The Eagles used goals by Michael Merkey in the opening six minutes of each half to provide all the offense it needed to knock off Long Reach, 2-1, on the road.
“We ended their season last year and we knew that they probably had a bit of a sore spot about that, so I think we knew how important those opening minutes would be. We had to match their energy,” Centennial coach Jim Zehe said. “There’s a great spirit of accountability on the team so far where everyone is making sure that everyone else is ready to come out ready to go right from the start like we were today.”
The victory improves Centennial, which opened the season with a win and a tie on Saturday in tournament play, to 2-0-1 this fall. Long Reach, meanwhile, playing in its first game, falls to 0-1.
On a chilly evening under cloudy skies, the Eagles wasted little time setting the tempo. The team got on the board just less than five minutes in. On a transition opportunity, Michael Merkey got on the end of a ball played to him by Michael Pellegrini and finished into the back of the net for a quick 1-0 Eagles advantage.
“A tough team like Long Reach, you need a goal early so that you have a little bit of a cushion,” Merkey said. “We knew they were going to be coming at us, so a lead was huge.”
Long Reach coach John Horner watched his team settle in after that, generating several quality chances in the latter stages of the opening half, but talked afterward about how crucial those opening minutes were.
“We’ve struggled with slow starts in the past with some of the players who are on the team and we’ve talked a lot about having to be ready to go as soon as that whistle blows, even before that really,” Horner said. “We just can’t start like that and, today, that was the difference.”
Neither team scored again in the first half, with Centennial holding a 1-0 advantage at the break.
Then, just like at the beginning of the game, the Eagles sprinted out of the gates to open the final 40 minutes. Merkey this time finished a feed from Tom Brown on the near post to make it 2-0.
Long Reach didn’t quit, again bouncing back from the slow start to the half to begin gaining a better part of the possession battle. Finally, just shy of 11 minutes into the second half, the Lightning got on the board.
Joshua Fawole tracked down a lead pass to get free for a breakaway chance that he finished into the corner of the net.
“It was important going down 2-0 that they didn’t give up and they kept playing hard,” said Horner. “If these guys want to accomplish what they think they can do this season, they are going to have to comeback and stay headstrong in games. And today, they did that.”
Long Reach had several other chances to get even down the stretch, but Centennial goalie EJ Fowler ultimately shut the door on any comeback hopes. The Eagles’ senior finished with seven saves, including a diving stop on a breakaway chance with 10 minutes left in regulation.
“It was a huge game for E.J., especially in him having the confidence to come off his line like he did. He gave the backs the confidence they needed to stick to our game plan,” Zehe said. “(Long Reach’s) speed is really something because if they got the ball in the midfield they were almost always going to dribble past our defenders, so that’s why it was critical for us to have cover on the backside. They found space on us, but we did a pretty good job overall I thought.”
Zehe added that he’s pleased overall with the team’s start.
“I feel like we’d be feeling pretty good about ourselves just based on how we’re playing, but of course when you can get the results too to back that up, it just feels that much better,” he said.
Centennial 2, Long Reach 1
Goals: C – Merkey 2; LR – Fawole.
Assists: C – Pellegrini, Brown.
Saves: C – Fowler 7; LR – Gilbert 5.
River Hill 2, Glenelg 1 2OT
The Hawks needed a frantic comeback in the final minutes to escape with a victory over the Gladiators, as Gianni Gupta provided the game-tying goal in the final seconds of regulation and then Omar Hraky tallied the game-winner in the second overtime.
The win keeps River Hill (1-0 county, 4-0 overall) undefeated on the season.
Mt. Hebron 7, Reservoir 0
Fresh off a loss to Catonsville on Saturday, the Vikings were on a mission in their first county game of the season against the Gators. The team scored seven times, getting multiple goals from Lucas Oh, Atticus Cooke and Johnny Linsenmeyer, on the way to the shutout victory.
“The boys responded well to an uncharacteristically poor performance against Catonsville with a resounding win,” coach Mike Linsenmeyer said. “The most exciting thing is, the win was the first game played on the brand new turf field at the school.”
Goals: MH – Oh 2, Linsenmeyer 2, Cooke 2, Palin.
Assists: MH – Linsenmeyer, Palin, Yacynych.
Saves: MH – Manasterli 5; Re – N/A.
Wilde Lake 4, Hammond 0
Goals: WL – Severson 2, Obeng, Lin.
Assists: WL – Pascale 2.
Saves: WL – Riley 8; Ha – N/A.
Oakland Mills 3, Marriotts Ridge 2
The Scorpions trailed 2-1 before making a late comeback to win by a goal. The team’s goals came from Michael Ahumada, off an assist from Khaaliq Canada; Jefferson Fuentes, also off an assist from Canada; and Macklin Anderson on a feed from Hymad N’Diaye.
It was the first victory of the season for Oakland Mills after dropping both games in its own tournament over the weekend.