Former Mt. Hebron boys lacrosse player Evan Nicholson enjoyed nothing more than beating rival Centennial.
Nicholson helped the Vikings win a state title in 2006 before heading off to Roanoke College. That year he was diagnosed with Leukemia and passed away from the disease two years later.
On Saturday afternoon — with Nicholson’s family in attendance — Mt. Hebron squared off with Centennial in the championship game of the fifth annual Fight for Five Tournament. The Vikings scored three goals over a minute span in the fourth quarter to hold off the Eagles, 9-7.
All proceeds from the tournament go to the Evan Nicholson Memorial Scholarship through the Ulman Cancer Fund.
“Centennial had our number when Evan was here until his senior year when we won states. That was the only time we beat them,” Mt. Hebron coach Mike McCarthy said. “That was Evan’s thing, he just wanted to beat Centennial. So it's funny how it worked out that way today winning this tournament for the first time.”
The Vikings comfortably won their first four games of the season by an average margin of 10 goals, but the Eagles weren’t going to make things that easy.
“We knew it was going to be tough,” McCarthy said. “We haven’t really been tested yet and this was exactly what we needed. … This was a good day.”
Behind back-to-back goals from Adam Huber (three goals) in the third quarter, Mt. Hebron took a 6-4 advantage into the final period before Centennial was able to tie the game with 7 minutes, 50 seconds to play.
Michael Moore scored on an assist from Andrew Gavlin and Stephen Latona fired a high-to-high laser into the back of the net to swing momentum into the Eagles’ favor.
But with Nicholson in mind, the Vikings were determined not to let the game slip away.
Jake Stevens answered 23 seconds later with his third goal of the game – a left-handed runner assisted by Nick Lucchesi.
Mt. Hebron scored two more times over the next 65 seconds to pull back in front thanks to goals by Michael O’Rourke and Shane Brookhart.
“We weren’t going to let that happen,” Stevens said about Centennial’s late comeback attempt. “We’ve never won this tournament and that was a big thing for us this week. We wanted to win it especially for Evan’s father.”
Senior goalie Jon Nass made the lead stand up with a gritty performance between the pipes. Nass stopped seven shots in the fourth quarter, several from point-blank range.
“My favorite game ever was when we played them last year in the playoffs,” said Nass, referring to a 10-7 win over the Eagles in the 3A/2A South regional quarterfinals. “We knew all of their shooters and what we had to do to stop them but in the first half we slept on it. In the second half we executed.”
The Eagles wasted no jumping on the scoreboard. Danny Nalepa won the opening faceoff and ran right down main street to finish with a low bouncer. Later, Centennial closed the quarter with back-to-back goals by Max Dwyer and Ben McHugh to take a 4-3 lead.
But the Vikings held Centennial scoreless in the second and third quarters, and Huber scored three straight over that span.
“We definitely had to come back and be resilient,” Huber said. “Third quarters for us over the past few games haven’t been that strong but in these two games toda,y we came back strong.”
The Howard County squads advanced to the championship with impressive wins earlier in the day. Mt. Hebron knocked off North Carroll, 20-7, and Centennial downed Loch Raven, 17-7.
Eagles coach Nick Kellinger knew that the championship game would be hard fought between two programs that have had some tough battles over the years.