Down a goal for the first time in the last two weeks and being “outworked” by visiting Centennial, Mt. Hebron coach Mike Linsenmeyer challenged his team to pick things up in the closing minutes of the first half Thursday.
As it turns out, the Vikings’ response was everything the long-time coach could have hoped for.
Lucas Oh converted a diving header to help Mt. Hebron tie the game just before halftime and then, after back-and-forth momentum swings in the early stages of the second half, Johnny Linsenmeyer stepped up and delivered the decisive blow in what finished as a 3-2 victory.
“I was really proud of them for how we responded after having not being scored on in the last five games. We never backed down, didn’t hang our heads and we got the tying goal to get back in it,” Mike Linsenmeyer said. “And, from there, it was just a crazy game. Both teams were trying so hard and we were very fortunate to come out on top. There was just so much emotion out there tonight on both sides.”
The victory by Mt. Hebron (7-1 county, 9-2 overall), which was secured in the closing minutes thanks to a trio of diving stops by goalie Shahin Manasterli (10 saves), now creates a three-way tie for first in the loss column between the Vikings, Centennial (6-1, 8-1-1) and River Hill (5-1, 8-1).
“We knew this was like kind of the county championship … it was a must win,” Johnny Linsenmeyer said. “We went down, then we fought back, and then they came back and scored. It was just a great comeback all around.”
On the other side, Eagles’ coach Jim Zehe was disappointed afterward about his team losing for the first time, but had nothing but praise for the effort by his guys.
“In almost every area, I’m really happy with the way we played and I’m extremely proud of them,” Zehe said. “Their goalie made a bunch of really good saves, we also helped him a few times to allow him to catch his breath, but I love my team and I love the way we play. We had chances … ultimately we just weren’t able to finish as many of them as we needed to.”
Centennial was the aggressor early and that pressure was rewarded with the early lead. On a play that started with a Mt. Hebron turnover on the right wing, Centennial senior Michael Merkey got control of the ball and proceeded to fire a hard shot off a defender’s head into the back of the net.
With that goal, it marked the first time Mt. Hebron has trailed since it lost in overtime against River Hill on Sept. 17.
Centennial nearly got another a few minutes later, as the Vikings’ Daniel Obeng needed to head a ball off the goal line to keep the team’s deficit at just one.
Just as things were looking bleak, however, Oh stepped up and made a play. Off a long free kick by Jacob Parrott, Oh redirected a header into the back of the net with 3:17 left before halftime.
“It was really frustrating to watch us play those first 35 minutes and a lot of that had to do with Centennial playing so well. We didn't come out hard and they really made us pay by dominating play,” Mike Linsenmeyer said. “We were very fortunate to get into the half tied 1-1 and you have to credit Jacob and Lucas for making a great play there. That definitely changed some of the momentum.”
Things went back-and-forth in the opening 12 minutes of the second half.
Mt. Hebron took its first lead of the game, 2-1, when Jared Simowitz came off the bench to score eight minutes out of the break. Just three minutes later, though, Centennial answered when Ammar Narmouq converted a penalty kick to tie the game back up 2-2.
That left Johnny Linsenmeyer in a position to play hero. The junior midfielder collected a ball near the top of the box on the right side and proceeded to fire a hard shot into the far side of the net midway through the second half.
“It just happened to fall in my lap and I just got ahold of it. And then luckily it went in,” Johnny Linsenmeyer said.
Nursing a one-goal lead, Mt. Hebron relied on its defense to do the rest. Obeng and Michael Yacynych both made big plays in the air down the stretch, but no one was bigger than Manasterli. The Vikings’ goalie was everywhere, particularly in the final five minutes as Centennial pushed everyone forward.
“I just stay on my line and I trust my back line to do what they have to do. Then, when I need to do something, I just react,” Manasterli said.
It was a diving save on the left post by Manasterli with 10 seconds left — on a play that started with a long free kick by Centennial’s Tom Brown — that closed the game out.
Mt. Hebron has games against Glenelg, Wilde Lake and Long Reach left on its schedule. Centennial, meanwhile, still has regular season games left against Wilde Lake, Oakland Mills, Glenelg and Reservoir.
Mt. Hebron 3, Centennial 2
Goals: MH – Oh, Simowitz, Linsenmeyer; C – Merkey, Narmouq.
Assists: MH – Parrot, Palin.
Saves: MH – Manasterli 10; C – Fowler 4.
Hammond 1, Marriotts Ridge 0
Darren Ketchum scored the lone goal of the game for the Golden Bears, while goalie Simon Bradford made 10 saves to secure the shutout.
Long Reach 1, Reservoir 0
Quentin Valiente scored the game winner with roughly 15 minutes left in the second half off an assist from Eddie Sanchez. The win was the second straight for the Lightning.