The pressure of playing in a state tournament seemed almost non-existent on Westminster’s sideline.
The Owls came into Saturday’s Class 3A semifinal with their share of confidence, much of which stemmed from being the reigning state champs and owning a 35-game win streak. Before halftime ended, rather than get too caught up in the moment, many of Westminster’s players sang along to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” that played over the public address system at Mount Hebron High School.
The Owls cruised past James M Bennett 16-6 to advance to the 3A title game for a second year in a row.
And they made it look relatively easy — junior Conner Covey led the way with five goals, senior attackman Bubba Love netted four, and fellow senior Chase Buckwalter added three.
When they weren’t swaying or pumping their fists to a late 1960s soft rock classic, the Owls were busy congratulating each other after smooth transitions and crisp passes that led to plenty of offense.
“We’re all pretty much just brothers,” Love said. “We’re playing not only for ourselves, but for everyone else.”
Westminster (18-0) won its 36th consecutive game by taking control in the first quarter. The Owls led 5-1 with 4:30 remaining after Love scooped up a loose ball and tucked it behind Bennett goalie Cayden Atkins.
Braden Glushakow did his best to keep the Clippers in it with three first-quarter goals, but Westminster led 6-3 after one and 10-4 at the break.
Covey netted two goals in the second quarter, and Love had a goal and an assist.
Westminster’s defense was busy too — junior goalie Logan Covey made 12 saves, and his back-line mates shut down the crease for most of the remainder of the afternoon. Owls coach Steve DeFeo credited his defenders, led by a crop of seniors, for putting together a standout effort.
“Our defense, I thought, had an excellent day,” DeFeo said. “I thought they did a good job neutralizing some of the key players that [Bennett] had over there that were talented. They got our attention really early and we had to shore some things up, and they did.”
The 3A state final is set for May 22 at 6 p.m at Paint Branch High School.
Glushakow led the Clippers (13-6) with three goals, but didn’t cash in after the first quarter. Luke Nestor added two goals and two assists for Bennett, which was making its first state semifinal appearance.
Meanwhile, Westminster earned its 11th final four berth in the last 20 seasons. It’s a place the Owls strive to be each spring, and it’s plain to see why they’re a perennial contender.
This year’s bunch averages more than 15 goals per game, while the defense allows 7.2 per game. It’s a formula that has Westminster one win away from a second consecutive state crown, and third in program history.