Centennial boys lacrosse defender Chase Conley never had any doubt that his team would win. Even when the Eagles' offense was held scoreless for 24 minutes by Mt. Hebron on Monday, Conley knew that if the defense could keep it close, Centennial could pull off the rally.
And that's what the Eagles did after trailing visiting Mt. Hebron by two scores late in the third quarter. Centennial scored the game’s final four goals to earn an 8-6 comeback victory in the Class 3A/2A South regional semifinals.
“Our defense has been playing strong all season,” Conley said. “I was confident, and our coaches were confident, that we would get it done.
“After every dead ball we came together and said that we needed to play our game. We were getting ground balls and pushed it up the field. Eventually, the offense converted and got some good plays out of it.”
The teams played twice in the regular season, with each earning a win. The rubber match was much like the first two meetings, when the outcome was decided in the final quarter.
Centennial caught fire early, jumping out to a 4-1 lead in the first quarter. Teddy Sylvia, Ben McHugh, Austin Kraisser and Stephen Latona accounted for the goals, much to the delight of the home crowd.
But the Vikings didn’t allow the early deficit to take them out of their game plan.
“They jumped on us real quick, going ahead 4-1 maybe six minutes into the game,” Mt. Hebron coach Mike McCarthy said. “But we were patient and won some face-offs to help us get control back.”
Adam Huber fired in an extra-man goal with a minute left in the first quarter to stop the Centennial run. Jake Stevens came from behind the cage and fired in a shot as he fell to spark a three-goal, second quarter run for Mt. Hebron.
Huber scored his second of the game and Stevens finished a fast break opportunity to make it 5-4 at halftime.
Just like in their last meeting 10 days ago, the Eagles remained calm despite trailing at the break.
The Vikings kept the pressure on in the third quarter when Zach Stevens – recently returning to the lineup from a collarbone injury – scored his second goal to make it 6-4.
Things turned around for Centennial later in the quarter, however, when a solid defensive play turned into instant offense.
C.J. Marquart put a check on a Mt. Hebron player causing a turnover at midfield. Latona scooped the groundball and ran straight to the cage. He finished at the 4:46 mark of the period – the Eagles’ first score since Latona’s goal with 4 minutes, 51 seconds left in the first quarter.
Latona closed the third quarter with another goal, this time assisted by Andrew Gavlin, to tie the score at 6-6.
“Our offense just wasn’t doing well but in the third quarter, coach (Jack) Thomas brought us together and told us that we had to move, get ground balls and score. That’s what we did,” Latona said.
A minute into the fourth quarter, Sylvia saw a small opening and took a chance. He wrapped around from behind the cage and sent a shot in from a tough angle to push Centennial ahead, 7-6.
“I saw their defense riding on my back, so I figured maybe I could try and sneak it in,” Sylvia said. “Then I saw (Mt. Hebron defender Jaime) McLamb coming and got a little nervous. So I just flipped it and it went in top left.”
Mt. Hebron had a chance to even the score but a shot with just under six minutes left bounced hard off the crossbar. Later, Eagles goalie Bryan Ruygrok stopped two point-blank shots before Mikey Moore added an insurance goal with 2:20 remaining to seal the victory.
“Our defense played great in the second half and the offense picked it up,” said Ruygrok, who finished with 12 saves. “It was just a great effort all together.”