Mt. Hebron's Ellie Miller talks about the Vikings' 14-13 victory over Centennial in the 3A East region quarterfinals on Friday, May 10, 2019.
Second chances don’t come around that often, particularly in the playoffs.
So when Mt. Hebron got one with the game tied in the final seconds of the 3A East region quarterfinals on Friday against Centennial, Ashley Unkenholz made sure she didn’t waste it.
Just seconds after the Vikings had turned the ball over in front of the Centennial goal, sophomore defender Mia Holland leapt in front of an Eagles’ clearing pass to regain possession and quickly fired a looping pass to just outside the crease. Unkenholz then did the rest — receiving the ball, running to her right and then converting a shot as she fell to the turf with 11 seconds left for the deciding score in a 14-13 Mt. Hebron win.
“We missed that [first chance] and you never know if that’s going to be it, but I think the whole team never stopped believing that we were going to find a way,” Unkenholz said. “As soon as we got the ball back, I knew I had to be ready. And when I caught it, everything happened so quickly, but I knew no matter what happened I had to put it in the back of the net.
“We had worked so hard all game to get to there, we just had to finish it.”
The thrilling win helps Mt. Hebron (7-7) avenge a 16-15 overtime loss against Centennial during the regular season and advance to face off Monday against Atholton, a winner over Long Reach in its own quarterfinal game.
After making a run last spring to the 3A state championship game, Mt. Hebron coach Lindsay Menton said that experience certainly helped her team stay the course during a game against the Eagles this year that saw seven ties and four lead changes.
“The reason you play lacrosse is for these good, close games and what comes with that are the highs and lows. There are going to be times when we have runs, and times when they answer,” Menton said. “What is important is to maintain that poise and composure and today I thought we did exactly that. We never lost that belief that we were going to get to where we needed to be if we stuck to our game plan.”
Centennial, after trailing by as many as four goals, regrouped to go on a 7-1 run over a 15-minute stretch in the second half to take its largest lead of the game at 12-10 with 9:43 remaining in regulation. Louisa Lagera (4 goals, 4 assists), Marisa Lagera (4 goals) and Rasa Welsh (2 goals, assist) keyed the turnaround.
Mt. Hebron simply refused to go away, responding with its own three-goal surge led by Ellie Miller (6 goals) and Jessie Barke (2 goals), to set up a back-and-forth final couple minutes.
Centennial got a goal from Alyssa Kelly with two minutes remaining to tie the score. Then after Mt. Hebron won the ensuing draw, the Vikings milked the clock down to the final 30 seconds before the Eagles’ defense forced a turnover. Before Centennial could transition up the field, however, Mt. Hebron’s Holland swooped in to change the course of the contest.
“Mia just took a risk. We always talk about ‘why not us,’ and she really just embodied that in that moment,” Menton said. “She stepped up, made a big play for us and as a coach, that’s not something you can game plan for. She just went with her instincts and made something happen in a critical moment.”
Despite the heartbreak at the end, Centennial coach Bethany Cunha said her team did everything she asked of them.
“I told my girls before the game that all I’m asking of you tonight is to play your hearts out and leave everything on the field. And that’s exactly what they did,” she said. “So it’s impossible to not consider this a success, no matter what the scoreboard might say. We exceeded expectations all around this season … it just unfortunately came down to a bunch of little tiny mistakes adding up to one big thing at the end.
“But I couldn’t be any more proud of their effort. They are an amazing group of girls that are going to come back next year stronger.”
During the regular season match-up, it was Centennial that built a five-goal lead before Mt. Hebron came back to eventually force overtime. This time around, the Vikings flipped the script by jumping out to an 8-5 advantage going into halftime and Miller played a big part in that with four of her goals in those first 25 minutes. Goalie Georgia Ryan also starred in the first half with seven saves.
“We talked a lot about not getting in our heads … just play our game. We knew that we could win, we could execute and dominate the game,” Miller said.
Mt. Hebron increased its lead to 9-5 immediately after the break on a score by Haley Kampert (2 goals). However, that’s when Centennial found its rhythm to get itself back in the game. Welsh scored an unassisted tally to start the run with 23:36 remaining and the Eagles never slowed down until they had regained the lead.
In the end, it just wasn’t quite enough to hold off a Mt. Hebron team that ends Centennial’s season for the second straight year.
Mt. Hebron (7-7) — 14, Centennial (6-7) — 13
Goals: MH — Miller 6, Unkenholz 3, Barke 2, Kampert 2, Suazo 1; C — L. Lagera 4, M. Lagera 4, Welsh 2, Kelly 2, Sullivan 1.