Jackson Pittman scored five goals and Jonathan Fontana had four to help Wilde Lake come from behind and beat host Long Reach, 9-8, to win the Columbia Cup in both team’s regular season finale Friday night.
The Wildecats (4-2 Howard County, 7-5 overall) jumped out to an early 3-0 but let the lead slip away in the third quarter when the Lightning (1-5, 5-7) scored five unanswered goals to take an 8-6 advantage.
Fontana scored the next two goals, however, and Pittman buried the eventual game winner with 3 minutes, 36 seconds remaining. Goalie Nathan Cho (eight saves) made back-to-back saves in the final two minutes to preserve the lead.
It’s the second time this season Wilde Lake has edged Long Reach by a goal. Fontana had six goals in an 11-10 victory on March 28. The Wildecats also beat Hammond and Oakland Mills in overtime to earn the Columbia Cup crown.
“Both games this year with them have been really close,” said first-year coach Trevor Shea. “I told them first thing, I have a lot of respect for what [Lightning coach Josh Thomas] has done with the program. ... On our side, I told them all the way through that this game would come down to the last possession and it pretty much did.”
Wilde Lake scored on three consecutive shots in the span of 52 seconds early in the contest before Long Reach settled in. Goals from Jason Smith and Devin Lemuel, both of whom registered hat tricks, cut the deficit to one at the end of the opening quarter and the two teams traded tallies in the second.
It looked like the Wildecats were going to pull away early in the third quarter when Pittman and Fontana scored on back-to-back shots in the first 1:20 to double up the Lightning, 6-3, but the home team had other ideas. Smith cut the deficit to two and then a tally from Lemuel in transition made it 6-5 before a turnover in Wilde Lake’s own zone resulted in a wide-open goal for long-pole defender Eric Benesch to tie the game.
A fourth straight goal on a fourth consecutive shot by Lemuel gave Long Reach its first lead, and Smith followed with another with 1:32 left in the third quarter.
Thomas said his team made adjustments at halftime to find holes in the zone defense Wilde Lake was playing, but when it came out and played man-to-man in the third they were able to make a run.
“We were able to use a couple of the plays and a couple guys were able to find spots,” he said. “Some of that was their energy rather than what we told them to do.”
The Wildecats wouldn’t allow another goal the rest of the way. Fontana, who also played a key role in them winning 16 of 21 faceoffs, scored late in the third quarter and then tied it on the extra-man offense with 7:40 remaining. Pittman’s game-winning strike came with Long Reach down two players on two separate penalties.
The Lightning had several opportunities to even the game late but couldn’t get anything past Cho.
“As soon as we got the lead I yelled out to him, ‘Let’s go Cho,’ because I knew it was going to come down to him,” Shea said. “I could tell — he got a little shimmy — that he was like, all right, it is going to come down to me.”
A turnover with about a minute to play and another in the final 20 seconds doomed their chances.
“We’ve had opportunities throughout the season like that and sometimes they happen and sometimes they don’t, but it’s the energy that keeps carrying us on through the rest of the season,” Thomas said.
Wilde Lake (4-2 county, 7-5 overall) — 9, Long Reach (1-5, 5-7) — 8
Goals: WL — Jackson Pittman 5, Jonathan Fontana 4; LR — Jason Smith 3, Devin Lemuel 3, Josh Carroll 1, Eric Benesch 1
Assists: WL — Eric Knoernschild 2; LR — Dylan Brice 2, Jonathan Park 1, Carroll 1
Saves: WL — Nathan Cho 8; LR — Angel Ochoa 15