Trailing by three goals with just under three minutes left in the game, there was never a second of doubt for the Glenelg boys lacrosse team in Friday's Class 3A-2A state semifinal against Kent Island at Annapolis High School.
Well, maybe there was a moment or two when it looked as though the Gladiators' season was over and their run of three straight state final appearances would come to an end.
Then, the experience of reaching the state semifinal round in each of the last seven years kicked in. Led by junior Nick Forrest, Glenelg scored four goals in the final 2 minutes, 51 seconds to pull out a stunning 10-9 victory.
"That's a testament to the character of our kids and our community," Glenelg coach Josh Hatmaker said. "We have hard-working kids that come from hard-working families."
Forrest paced Glenelg (16-2) with a game-high four goals to go along with two assists, while Mark Darden scored twice and goalie Landry Marshall stopped 18 shots.
Kent Island entered the fourth quarter with a 6-4 lead, and back-to-back goals by Patrick Garvey increased the margain to 9-6 with 6:44 left in regulation.
That's when Towson-bound faceoff specialist Anthony Pagnotta turned it on. After breaking his stick, Pagnotta found that injured teammate Zach Bailey had a similar one he could use. Pagnotta went on to roll, winning three of the final four faceoffs to help Glenelg gain extra possessions it would need to make the comeback.
“I kept getting called for going early and I couldn’t figure out why,” said Pagnotta, who was called for eight procedural violations. “When we did get to go, I was just following him down the line because I knew that he was going down the line and then up. So I followed him down, created a ground ball and hoped my wings would help me out and they did.”
A man-up goal by Kevin Coppinger got the Gladiators to within 9-7. Pagnotta won the ensuing faceoff and 10 seconds later, Christian Salandra raced to the cage for the score. After releasing the shot, he took a late hit to give Glenelg another extra-man opportunity.
Forrest made good on the man-up with a score assisted by freshman Kevin Wynne with 1:44 left to tie the score at 9. Kent Island won the next faceoff but immediately turned it over. Drew Dziwulski scooped the ground ball and was pushed in the back, giving the Gladiators possession with 1:27 remaining.
After holding the ball for a minute, Forrest connected on the game-winner. He dodged to his left from behind the cage and let the shot fly, putting Glenelg ahead for the first time since it was 1-0 minutes into the first quarter.
"I had a step on my guy and no one picked me up," Forrest said. "I saw the opening and shot bottom-left. It went through and I couldn't even think. I was just jumping for joy. We don't want our season to end and now we've got one more."
Pagnotta's win on the next faceoff sealed the game and the Gladiators sideline went into a frenzy.
When the celebration began to calm down, Hatmaker was clutching the game ball in his hands as his eyes darted from one player to the next. With so many making pivotal plays in that wilde fourth quarter rally, he wasn’t sure who was most deserving of it.
“Who do I give the game ball to? I don’t know who to give it to,” Hatmaker said. “It was a team effort and that’s the way that we conduct ourselves.”
The Buccaneers (14-2) controlled the pace of the game throughout, maintaining a two-point lead for most of the contest. Zach Goodrich helped Kent Island win the faceoff battle, 15-8, and limited Glenelg’s chances.
But three penalties in the closing five minutes led to a pair of extra-man goals and that was the beginning of the end for the Buccaneers.
“Our kids played their hearts out, especially after Johnny (Giuffreda) went down early,” Kent Island coach Tim Kerr said about their leading scorer who was injured in the first half. “If we has in, maybe it would have been a different ball game. Whenever you lose your best player, it hurts the team's psyche.”
The Gladiators advance to the state title game for the fourth straight season and will play the winner of Hereford-Century in next week's 3A-2A state final at UMBC. Hereford is the five-time defending champion and defeated Glenelg in the finals last year.
Class 3A/2A state semifinals
Glenelg 10, Kent Island 9
C 3 1 2 3 — 9
G 1 2 1 6 — 10
Goals: KI – Hager 3, Garvey 2, Fromert 2, Giuffreda, Boone; G – Forrest 4, Darden 2, Wasson, Pagnotta, Coppinger, Salandra.
Assists: KI – Fromert, Garvey, Greenwood, Goodrich, Quinn; G – Forrest 2, Wynne.
Saves: KI – Abplanalp 7; G – Marshall18.
Halftime: Kent Island, 4-3.