Glenelg coach Josh Hatmaker called April 13 the low point of the season.
The Gladiators were coming off an overtime loss to Broadneck the day before and then lost two games that afternoon to Westminster and Century. They had leads in both contests, but by the end of the second weekend in April, they had lost six straight games and were 3-6.
A state championship — let alone a deep postseason run — seemed so far away.
“We were emotionally spent after that Westminster game, came out and got a lead and the wheels came off the bus. They quite literally ... you go back and watch film and we’re like, imploding,” Hatmaker said. “We watched that film — it was the first one I gave these guys. I said go back and watch it ... we just didn’t play like ourselves.”
The Gladiators can laugh about those cold April days now that they are 2A state champions. What seemed so far away a month ago suddenly became a reality on Tuesday, as they won their 10th straight game and avenged that season-defining loss to the Knights, 11-7, at Paint Branch High School to capture their fourth state title in the last 13 years and first since 2011.
“It goes to these kids, what they’ve done, what they’ve gone through,” said Hatmaker, who has been at the helm for all four state championships. “They have never wavered, not once, since we dropped two in a row, three in a row, four in a row. You kept asking, was I worried, and I always said no and I meant it.”
Hatmaker and senior Michael Doughty, who had a game-high four goals and an assist in the title game against the Knights to finish the season with 51 goals and 44 assists, had a one-on-one meeting after those tournament losses April 13. It was an honest conversation between a coach who knows what it takes to raise the championship trophy and a team leader who remembers his sophomore year when they were 3-6 and rallied to reach the state final.
“I think that was one of the things that helped turn things around, being able to step up and say this is not going to happen anymore,” Hatmaker said.
For Century (16-3), there was a feeling of déjà vu when it scored three straight goals in the second quarter to cut the deficit to 5-4 with 59 seconds remaining before intermission. For Glenelg (13-6), that thought never crossed their collective minds. Nobody panicked. Instead, junior Kyle Dry and Doughty scored 26 seconds apart before the end of the half to extend the lead to 7-4.
Once again, the Knights seemed poised to make a potential comeback, as Brett Kropinski scored his second goal of the contest late in the third quarter and made it a two-goal game.
Any momentum, however, was quickly swung back in the Gladiators favor. Doughty set up senior Ryan Hopkins for a doorstep goal, and early in the fourth quarter senior Tyler Reiff’s strike left no doubt about the result. The party was officially on when long-pole defender CJ Davidson scored with 3 minutes, 58 seconds remaining to balloon the lead to 10-5.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the way the guys played, the way they came together,” said Century coach Jeremy Benson. “ ... Total team buy-in. I’ve never had an easier, more fun season than this one. I couldn’t be more proud. We didn’t get the win but we stayed in it against a very talented team and I think we made them earn it all the way up to the last second.”
Glenelg faceoff specialist Mason Davis won 19 of 21 draws in the state semifinal against Hereford and was nearly as good against Century. He won 16 of 22 overall, including all six in the fourth quarter.
Defensively, the Gladiators entered the season with seven new players but clamped down after the six-game skid. They allowed 84 goals through the first nine games of the season but the unit — led by senior goalie John Kennedy — allowed just 48 in the final 10 and never more than seven in any game during that stretch.
“The defense played amazing today,” Reiff said. “John in cage, we had a bunch of new guys starting this year. A lot of people were talking down on them before the start of the season, but they really came into their own over the course of the season and really developed that defensive chemistry. They were a gigantic factor for us getting to this game and winning it.”
After the game, Hatmaker said there were lessons learned from their state final defeat at the hands of Linganore two years ago.
“I thought two years ago when we were sitting in this same interview, I thought that our youth showed,” he said. “I thought this season our experience and our elder statesmen, if you will, really came to the top and led this team. I’m extremely, extremely proud of them.”
As the seconds ticked away, the Gladiators sideline could barely be contained. When the final whistle blew they raced toward the goal in euphoria.
“It was awesome. There’s nothing like it,” Doughty said. “We’ve been there before and we’ve never been able to get over the hump and win it, but it was crazy.”
“I’ve never been this happy in my life,” Reiff added.
Glenelg (13-6) — 11, Century (16-3) — 7
Goals: G — Michael Doughty 4, Ryan Hopkins 2, Kyle Dry 2, Kevin Doughty 1, Tyler Reiff 1, CJ Davidson 1; C — Jalen Stanton 3, Brett Kropinski 2, Brady Crumbacker 1, Alex Hillis 1
Assists: G — M. Doughty 1, Hopkins 1; C — None
Saves: G — John Kennedy 7; C — Adam Zimmerman 8
Halftime: 7-4, Glenelg