HOWARD COUNTY, MD — In the wake of a tough back end of the regular season schedule, which resulted in dropping six of the last seven games, the Centennial field hockey team eagerly wanted to terminate the recent misfortune.
With a potential playoff run starting at Long Reach High School on Thursday, against a team the Eagles handily beat by four goals earlier in the season, the Eagles had no time to waste and saw a lavish opportunity in the playoff opener.
Centennial’s focus level didn’t waver the slightest as it — for now, at least — righted the ship with a 6-2 win against Long Reach in the MPSSAA Class 3A East, Section II semifinals. The Eagles will now play at top-seeded Mt. Hebron on Oct. 30, in the 3A East Section II final and a shot to get to the region final.
“We were just really hungry and ready to get out there and show them what we got,” Centennial coach Lizz Engle said. “We had a tough end-of-the-season schedule. … We’ve worked really hard on creating offensive opportunities for ourselves, working on utilizing our free hits to really give us an advantage.”
The Eagles dominated the pace and time of attack in the first half, and, behind Lauren Muma (four goals on four shots on goal), mounted a two-goal lead before the game was four minutes old.
Muma charged the Eagles’ offensive blitz in the opening minutes, powering her way through a mob of defenders to net the first two goals of the contest. Her teammate, Lily Sullivan, assisted on both goals with slick cross passes to the front of the net, where all Muma had to do was send it across the plane.
“We were just really go-hungry,” Muma said.
Centennial didn’t let off the gas, and continued to apply heavy pressure in the offensive zone. Roughly two minutes after Muma pushed the Eagles’ lead to 2-0, Sullivan slipped her way to the front of the net amid a cluster for the ball, and somehow, she says, made a play that suddenly gave Centennial a commanding 3-0 lead.
All season long, Eagles have relied on quick one-touch passes coming from the middle of the field. They were executing this blueprint to near perfection in the opening seven minutes.
“That’s what gave us those opportunities,” Engle said. “I think we have a lot of players with a lot of unique strengths. So, passing and giving everybody an opportunity to use their strengths.”
While Centennial sat on a 3-0 lead for much of the first half, Long Reach scurried around to stop the bleeding. Coach Abby Myers opened up more opportunities for the speedy Jasmin Jones and switched formations from a 4-2-3-1 to a 3-3-3-1 with the intent to create passing lanes and more flow.
“It definitely put a stop to some of their passes and helped us a little bit,” Myers said. “We weren’t connecting on passes, and when we finally got the ball in the circle, we weren’t moving and cutting in front of Centennial. We lost it. We didn’t get the shots off.”
As halftime neared, Long Reach neutralized Centennial’s energy, holding the Eagles scoreless for the next 17 minutes. But when things began to settle, the Eagles took advantage of a slip-up when Sullivan scored on a one-timer from Camden Blevins. This pushed Centennial’s lead to 4-0 at the break.
Long Reach got on the board when Jones swung a corner pass to Erin O’Reilly, who then whizzed it into the back of the twine to cut into the deficit, 4-1, at the under-28 minute mark.
But Centennial increased its lead to 5-1 and 6-1 midway through the second half when Julia Grable shuffled a cross to a wide-open Muma at the doorstep, and when Kelly Peterson cleaned up a scrum at the front of the net.
Sam Ponsford scored the second goal for Long Reach on a Cassidy Trojan assist.
Centennial will now prepare to face the No. 1-seeded Vikings with a shot to get to the region title game.
“We need to be pumped like we were this game,” Sullivan said. “We need to keep bringing the offensive energy and keep pushing the ball up and still having a defense where everyone is working together as a unit.”
As for Long Reach, its season comes to a close. But with talented players waiting in the wings, Myers and company will head into the winter with something to smile about.
“This year is completely a building year,” Myers said. “Honestly, our goal is building the culture and the girls up at the school because we don’t have the same number of players that Glenelg, [Mt.] Hebron, Centennial have. So, our goal is to get those girls in from middle school and get them picking up sticks so we can fix that for the future.
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“I’m sad we lost. I think we could’ve played better. I think the way we played toward the end of the game is how we should’ve played all game. All the girls feel that way. It’s a great group of girls. We have a huge sophomore group coming up, so it’s promising.”