Dark blue and grey lacrosse equipment scattered the sideline in front of the Marriotts Ridge fans Wednesday afternoon at Mustang Stadium at Stevenson University in Owings Mills. Next to the stray sticks, helmets and gloves, the Mustangs posed for a team photo even before receiving their medals or 2A state championship trophy. It was their first time there, so forgive them for jumping the protocol.
All settled in with wide grins, Marriotts Ridge coach Tony Incontrera had a request for his winning squad: “Soak it in, boys. Soak it in.”
“There’s only a few teams that get to finish the year with a win, so it’s an opportunity that everybody shoots for. You really want to embrace it and embrace that moment,” said Incontrera, who improved to 63-37 at the helm. “It’s a moment you work for from March 1 until now, and for these guys it started last June. So yeah, I definitely wanted them to soak it in because they earned it. That’s where we wanted to be.”
The Mustangs had reason to celebrate, considering the complete team effort they put forth against Hereford, winners of a state-record nine titles, 13 straight regional crowns and 16 consecutive games, in an 8-6 victory for their first-ever state championship in their only appearance. Brett Gladstone scored a game-high three goals to lead a methodical offense that went on a 5-0 run to start the second half, but the difference ultimately was the defense.
Sophomore Patrick Greene played Bulls star JD Nozemack one-on-one for about three quarters and held the 60-plus-goal-scorer to two goals, and the rest of the unit executed the game plan of slowing them down and preventing transition opportunities.
“The game plan defensively was to not let [Nozemack] get the ball,” Incontrera said. “As much as we could, we did not want him getting the ball. I don’t have the exact numbers, but it seems like he accounts for 80 or 90 percent of their goals. He’s all over the stat sheet.”
Said Greene: “It really shut down their offense, that the ball wasn’t going through [Nozemack]. That was one of the keys to the game.”
It was a similar plan Marriotts Ridge had against Glenelg during their meeting in the sectional final on May 15. Both the Bulls and Gladiators are at their best in transition and playing fast, and Hereford coach Sal Picataggi, who watched that game from the stands, said he knew the Mustangs would be a tough team to matchup against.
“I think preparing for Hereford is very much similar to preparing for Glenelg, and I think we left a few out there today, but we did a really good job at slowing down the pace of play,” Incontrera said. “... We just knew if we were very patient and deliberate on offense, gaps were going to open up.”
Cole Gibbons scored for Hereford (16-3) just 51 seconds into the contest, but Marriotts Ridge (17-2) answered with goals by Gladstone and Logan Frank (two goals) on assists from Luke Ingersoll (three assists) and led, 2-1, after the first quarter. The Bulls lacked possession throughout the first half but managed to score two of the three goals in the second quarter, and the two teams headed into the locker room deadlocked at three.
Incontrera said the message at the break was that this was it. They had only 24 minutes left to play together as a team.
“Our game plan didn’t change, what we were doing on offense didn’t change, it was just we have 24 minutes left,” he said. “There is no tomorrow, so let’s just go all out.”
Marriotts Ridge took the message to heart. It dominated the third quarter, during which Gladstone, Frank and Troy Hettinger found the back of the net to take a 6-3 advantage. Peter Geier (two goals, assists) and Gladstone scored early in the fourth quarter to cap the 5-0 run that extended the lead to 8-3 with 7 minutes, 42 seconds remaining.
That was a big enough cushion for the Mustangs to hold on and win their 11th straight game. Hereford scored twice in two minutes, cutting the deficit to 8-5, and then again in the final minute, but it was too little too late against that defense and junior goalie Colin Kelley.
“They had a great game plan. All the credit goes to that team over there that won. They just executed everything they wanted to do perfectly,” Picataggi said. “... They’re a ball-control team, they’re patient, methodical, solid defense, has a kid who wins faceoffs, good kid in goal, and that’ll win you a lot of games, and today it won this one.”
Marriotts Ridge lost in the sectional finals during each of the last three seasons. This spring, it needed a double-overtime win against the rival Gladiators to get over the hump, and both Ingersoll and Hettinger agreed that the key to the playoff run was the confidence everyone gained from that victory.
“I thought the confidence from the Glenelg game, that we could keep rolling, and we got to this game and had confidence,” Ingersoll said. “Some people were doubting us, but I knew as a team we’d stick together and pull through, and the feeling of getting a win and ending my career and my senior year with a win is insane. It’s a great feeling.”
Marriotts Ridge (17-2) — 8, Hereford (16-3) — 6
Goals: MR — Brett Gladstone 3, Peter Geier 2, Logan Frank 2, Troy Hettinger; H — JD Nozemack 2, Troy Tuveson, Grafton Griffey, Will Reott, Cole Gibbons
Assists: MR — Luke Ingersoll 3, Geier, Hettinger; H — Jake Baldwin, Jake Furman
Saves: MR — Colin Kelley 6; H — John Talbott 7
Halftime: 3-3, tie