The Reservoir girls soccer team had to battle through an uneven regular season that featured more losses than wins, but one fact remains: The Gators are the defending Class 3A state champions.
They certainly looked the part Tuesday when visiting Howard County rival and No. 7 Centennial in the second round of the Class 3A East regional playoffs.
Their state playoff experience coming to the front, the Gators, controlled play throughout, got a goal from senior midfielder Michelle Viegas in the 54th minute and showed poise in protecting the advantage to advance with a 1-0 win over the Eagles.
Now 7-8 on the season, the Gators travel to Stephen Decatur on Friday in the regional semifinals. Centennial, which had beaten Reservoir, 1-0, in the regular season, was never able to get on track Tuesday and finished with an 11-2-2 mark.
Shrugging off early injuries, newcomers' settling into varsity positions and a 1-7 start, the Gators have won six of their past seven games — including a 3-0 win over Northeast to open the playoffs. Tuesday at Centennial, All-Metro junior forward Amanda Jackson controlled play with help from Viegas, whose heavy shot from 35 yards found the top left corner for the needed offense.
"During practice, I take time to take those type of shots. The defender wasn't stepping, so I saw the shot — I was just so open and so happy that I finally scored a goal this season," said Viegas, who has two goals this season. "We came into this game knowing we weren't going to lose — it was the best feeling."
Reservoir steadily built its attack in the first half — earning four corner kicks and other chances throughout — but was unable to break through against a sturdy Eagles defense.
The visitors thought they finally had the needed opening early in the second half when Jackson made a strong run down the left side and was taken down in the penalty area, but sophomore Keri Rager's penalty kick sailed high to keep the game scoreless.
After the Eagles pressured, with sophomore Ruthie Lucas putting their first shot on goal with 30 minutes to play and freshman Anna Mitchell sending a dangerous cross that went through, Viegas found time and space soon after for the game's only goal.
Reservoir sophomore center back Blair Bonner played a key role in limiting the Eagles' chances.
"We kind of knew in the beginning that we were going to take some lumps, and in October I was still a little nervous that maybe we wouldn't be able to turn it around, but we did," Reservoir coach Josh Sullivan said. "And then Amanda got healthy and Michelle got healthy, and everyone really feeds off them."
Saves: R—Fowler 2; C—Donegan 6.