Wilde Lake did on Tuesday what few thought it could. Despite beating River Hill, 2-1, in overtime during the regular season, the expectation was that the back-to-back state finalist Hawks would find the answer and expel revenge.
Instead, the Wildecats went on the road and beat River Hill by the same score to win the 3A East, Region II championship and end the Hawks’ season earlier than any team had since 2016.
It’s Wilde Lake’s first regional title since 1998.
“It's hard to describe,” said Wilde Lake coach Trevor Shea, whose sister, Megan, is the coach of the Wilde Lake girls team that defeated River Hill two hours prior. “I mean I'm excited. But we’ve been planning for this since these kids were freshman. My very first year, we took the steps to get to this game, and I told them that before tonight’s game, that everything had been put in place in the way we were looking for. ... We had proven to ourselves earlier this year that we could beat them.”
In a silly statistic that only soccer could provide, the Hawks had 14 shots on goal to the Wildecats’ two. Both went into the back of the net, and they came just one minute apart early in the second half.
“It's hard to process, because I think we had shots,” Shea said, “they just weren't on goal.”
“It’s a brutal game,” River Hill coach Matt Shagogue said.
Fittingly, perhaps, was that Wilde Lake’s first shot on goal wasn’t hit with pace or power but was precise enough to make it 1-0 in the 47th minute. Grant Gladden, who Shea said is the team’s “utility man” and was in for injured captain Ethan Shulgold, floated the shot just past the outstretched hands of Hawks goalkeeper Eric Gessell.
“A goal is a goal,” Wilde Lake junior Liam Nesbitt said, “and that gave us all the momentum that we needed to push through the game.”
Before the loud visiting crowd had even simmered down, the Wildecats (12-3-1) struck again, this time in a more usual fashion. A corner kick into the box bounced around and around, and Ousman Touray’s blocked shot was cleaned up by Nesbitt.
“It was just excitement,” Nesbitt said of the goal, “but we knew a 2-0 lead is the hardest thing to keep in soccer.”
River Hill (13-3) answered five minutes later, as Jed Dixon’s corner to the near post was headed in unattested by Jeff Fuentes, and the scoring chances continued to come in dangerous areas.
“It was the slowest 15 minutes of my life,” Nesbitt said.
Wilde Lake goalkeeper Gabrial Viteri tipped a shot just over the bar with nine minutes remaining, and 30 seconds later he stopped another would-be goal. Ultimately, nothing else got by him the rest of the way.
River Hill entered the year with its sights set on overcoming losses in the 3A state championships two years in a row. It started the year with seven consecutive shutouts and nine straight wins but went 4-3 in its last seven games with two of those defeats coming against the Wildecats.
Senior Alex Krause, an integral part of the offense who had nine goals and six assists, left the game two minutes into the second half and did not return. Shagogue said losing his striker and top scoring threat “changed a lot," but he added “we still had chances.”
“It’s always disappointing to lose the last game,” Shagogue said. “You’re disappointed for the kids. That’s that’s the big thing, the kids and especially the seniors because they work hard, they commit a lot and they dedicate themselves and they put it all out there."
Shea said the biggest key for a deeper run is to get healthy. He said the team is dealing with numerous lingering ailments to multiple players.
There was a clear message after the celebration cooled down that this isn’t the ultimate goal but rather just the first. The confidence, however, that Wilde Lake could win a state championship was also evident. If they can beat River Hill, why can’t they?
“This is what we wanted from the beginning,” Nesbitt said. “We said get past River Hill, and we’re winning states. So now we’re past River Hill, and the only thing left to do it just take it all home.”
Mt. Hebron 2, Marriotts Ridge 1
The Vikings (8-6-3) won their fifth straight game and beat the Mustangs (7-6-1) on the road to win the 3A East, Region I championship.
Arundel 3, Howard 2 (OT)
The Lions (10-5-1) had a 2-0 lead with five minutes remaining but couldn’t hold and fell to the Wildcats in overtime in the 4A East, Region I championship game.
Goals: Ho — Kyle Harris, Joe Sircus.
Assists: Ho — Ryan Hartlove, Jeff Bruner.
Saves: Ho — Colin Sutch 6.