A couple weeks after Marriotts Ridge's season ended with a 7-6 loss to Mt. Hebron in the 3A/2A South regional semifinals last spring, midfielder Lewy Anania and a handful of teammates met.
They were no longer satisfied being "good enough." They wanted the 2017 season to end with banners being raised, and it started then.
"We talked about the potential we had. Look at this year on offense; we have eight or nine guys who can take the ball to the rack and score goals," Anania said. "We said if we stick together and put the time in the weight room and come out here and shoot, no matter if its 30 degrees or 80 degrees, if we keep working hard and we come together as a team, we could do well.
"Our biggest point was we need to stick together and obviously it's been paying off now little by little."
On Friday, the Mustangs finally made their statement, knocking off three-time defending Howard County champions Howard, 12-8, for the first time since 2012 to take sole possession of first place in the county with two games remaining. It's only the second county loss for the Lions in the last four years.
And for Marriotts Ridge coach Tony Incontrera, it's the first time in his tenure that he's beaten his former college teammate, Lions coach Jimmy Creighton.
"Every single year they're competing for the state championship and playing against the best teams in the state, so for us to come out and play the way we did, I think it's great for us," Incontrera said. "I'm really proud of the way our guys played today."
Luke Ingersoll had points on the Mustangs' first four goals and finished with a hat trick to get his team off to a hot start with a 4-1 lead, while Peter Geier scored three of his four goals in the second half to keep the Howard's comeback bid at bay.
Michael Travisano's tally for the Lions early in the second half tied the game at 6, and it looked like the team that has made three straight appearances in the 4A/3A state championship game was ready to take off. Marriotts Ridge, though, wasn't ready to let it slip away.
"Honestly, I feel like we were all cool," Anania said. "It was one of those things where none of us got stressed out. In games earlier this year we did get stressed out. We're all great friends, so we can just look at each other and say it won't happen again and move on from it. ... We knew they weren't going to go away, but it was about staying together and if they score one we've got to score two."
From then on, the Mustangs pounced on every opportunity. Brett Gladstone scored on the extra-man offense. Geier buried his second of the game on a feed from Anania, who raised his arm in the air before the shot was even let loose, to make it 8-6 late in the third.
Ben O'Connor cut the deficit to one when Felix Knorr took control of one of his 19 draws cleanly and set up a perfectly executed tic-tac-toe fast break 12 seconds into the fourth. But once again Marriotts Ridge went 2-for-1, as Geier and Jake Polinsky scored 58 seconds apart to take a 10-7 advantage.
O'Connor scored again, but so did Geier and Ingersoll to cap a 6-2 run to close out the game.
"I think they executed a little better than us," Creighton said. "We turned the ball over a little bit in the middle of the field; there were some miscommunications in the clearing game, which hurt us on defense. They executed better and finished better when they had the shots.
"It's always disappointing to lose, period. Obviously this game had a little more meaning to it, but we have two tough games next week and we need to take care of business and go from there."
Overcoming Knorr's dominance on face-offs and Howard's time of possession was key for the Mustangs. They were outshot 36-19 and lost all but four draws but scored on both Howard penalties and took the smart shot. Their first three shots of the game went in.
"For us a bad shot is a turnover because every team we go against has a quality goalie," Incontrera said. "We want to work for the high-percentage shot."
The Mustangs can win the county championship if they can get by River Hill and Mt. Hebron next week, two teams that have played in the regional championship game the last two years. The focus is taking it one game at a time, but Incontrera admitted his squad has their sights set on raising three banners at the conclusion of the season.
"We talk about it every year. Our goal is to win the county, region and state title. It hasn't been something we've achieved, but it's been something we're striving to achieve," he said. "This group of seniors has been a great group and they said after last year this was their goal. They put the time in to put us in a position to be able to do that."
Marriotts Ridge (5-0 county, 8-4 overall) — 12, Howard (4-1, 8-4) — 8
Goals: MR — Peter Geier 4, Luke Ingersoll 3, Brett Gladstone 2, Lewy Anania, Troy Hettinger, Jake Polinsky; Ho — Jeff Bruner 2, Ben O'Connor 2, Nathan Handwerk, Mark Bruner, Patrick Sutch, Michael Travisano
Assists: MR — Logan Frank 3, Ingersoll 2, Polinsky, Gladstone, Anania; Ho — Garrett Rhinevault 2, Patrick Sutch 2
Saves: MR — Colin Kelley 10; Ho — Devlin Bradley, Matt Hubbard