Centennial didn’t believe that the only team that could beat Atholton was Atholton, as Raiders coach Alex McCoy said after Wednesday’s win over Reservoir.
The defending 3A East region champion Eagles proved as much Friday night, as senior Peter Krawczyk dismantled the opposition with five goals and four assists in a 14-5 victory over visiting Atholton in a 3A East region, Section I semifinal.
“They’re a good team and they’ve got good players, but we have had this mentality of desperation all year long and our goal in the playoffs is to get better every single day,” Centennial coach Nick Kellinger said. “We had a great week of practice and we hope that momentum will carry into our big matchup with Mt. Hebron.”
The Eagles (11-4), now finally healthy after a weeklong break, went on a 10-1 run after the score was tied, 3-3, at the end of the first quarter. Four different players netted goals as they outscored Atholton 4-0 in the second, and after the Raiders’ Justin Ahmuty (hat trick) cut the deficit to 7-4 with the first goal of the second half, Centennial answered with a 6-0 streak over next 12 minutes to pull away.
Kellinger said the difference between the first quarter and the last three was the one-on-one matchups defensively. He said they got “tighter” and “smarter” defensively and eliminated mental mistakes, like the one on Atholton’s first goal when a defender left the backside for a wide-open goal for Nolan Krasnick.
“We knew it wasn’t really going to be a chess match; it was going to be a fight,” Kellinger said. “We came to fight and they came to fight and they gave us all they got in the first quarter, but we knew if we kept the pressure on that we’d be able to pull away.”
While it was an all-around effort, Krawczyk stole the show. His ability to mold his game from possession to possession — whether it’s playing behind the goal or at the top of the midfield — based on what Kellinger wants to accomplish was key on Friday.
“Peter is so important to us because of what he brings physically. He’s a tough matchup for anybody, but he’s also really smart, too, and he knows when to share the ball,” Kellinger said. “He can play any way we need him to play in our offense.”
The third attackman was also a position that was up and down this season, so when DeCarlo came to the sideline after his third strike put the Eagles up 10-4, Kellinger smiled and pat him on the head. Sams scored a highlight goal a minute later, cutting through three close defenders and ripping a low-angle shot into the top-right corner. After each tally, the sideline found a new way to celebrate. One time they lined up in a row and collectively rowed a boat. Another they played duck-duck-goose.
On the field, however, Centennial was healthy. Injuries also took a toll down the stretch, as Sams, among others, missed games late in the regular season. Earning the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye, Kellinger said, worked wonders.
“I love it. It’s great for us to sort of refocus and really take a couple days and grind and get back to working hard,” he said. “We had a lot of injuries toward the end of the season and we started to get right a little bit, so we pushed them this week and they responded and played a great game tonight.”
For Atholton (6-10), it was a tale of two parts — the first quarter and the last three. It had as many shots (six) in the first 12 minutes as it did in the final 36, and even though Krasnick won 13 of 22 faceoffs, it wasn’t enough. The Raiders consistently turned the ball over in key situations and couldn’t get out of the rut.
“It just couldn’t come together,” McCoy said. “We ask a lot of every player on the field and a lot of our kids put in good mileage during the game. We just didn’t take advantage of the opportunities. We made them and we had them, and then it becomes difficult against a good team when they’re finishing them and you’re not, and then it starts to snowball.”
McCoy noted that despite the loss, the season was still a success in his eyes.
“We had our program goals and we took another step forward,” he said. “ ... We learned a lot about what it takes to win and we learned a lot about what we want our program to be.”
Centennial (11-4) — 14, Atholton (6-10) — 5
Goals: C — Peter Krawczyk 5, Jackson DeCarlo 3, Ty Sams 3, Andrew Kauffman 1, Charlie Hockersmith 1, Jake Ritter 1; A — Justin Ahmuty 3, Nolan Krasnick 1, Brian Tarantino 1