The season as a whole hadn't gone as planned for Mt. Hebron.
It entered the year with county championship aspirations but fell short, and through it all there were personal issues that lingered like a dark cloud over the team.
But now all the tough times – and their pursuit of revenge – are officially behind them. The Vikings said as much after they avenged last year's region final loss to River Hill in a 6-0 shutout win Wednesday to capture their first 3A/2A South Region championship since 2006. They won the state title that year.
"All week coach has been saying, 'Redemption road,' and we've just been harping on that," said Mt. Hebron goalie Casey DuBois, who stopped seven shots in the shutout victory. "We were the favorite coming into this game last year and they upset us. It was pretty depressing. I'm speechless now. We did it for coach (Mike) McCarthy."
McCarthy said the defensive performance was arguably the best in the lacrosse program's history. The co-county champion Hawks (13-4) entered the game averaging more than 11 goals per game. They mustered just seven shots through the first three quarters and 15 total.
Kyle Sutton led the offense with a pair of goals for Mt. Hebron (12-5), which put the game away with three goals in the span of 2 minutes, 58 seconds late in the fourth quarter.
"Since last year's loss in this game, it's been tough. It's been a tough season for us. The kids have just fought through it and we struggled at times," McCarthy said. "But that was a pretty freaking impressive performance against a really good lacrosse team that is extremely well coached. It means the world to us.
"We just worked through it. There were some tough days and coming to practice was tough and we dealt with some personal issues. I just told them to keep grinding, keep grinding, keep grinding."
The Vikings' defensive game plan worked to perfection. They worked to stay tight and not allow River Hill, state finalists a year ago, to use its team speed to get open in space.
"They space out really well and they pull guys out high and they dodge and get really nice spacing," said DuBois, a first-team all-county goalie in 2015. "We decided to pack it in and let them take outside shots. My defense is phenomenal. ... They all played a hell of a game."
While the defensive performance was exceptional, Karson Porter was the Vikings' x-factor. He won seven of 10 face-offs and all five in the second half against the Hawks' Derek Isaac, who simply dominated the draws by winning 16 of 18 in an 8-6 win against Mt. Hebron on April 21.
"We have two of the best ground ball guys in the league on the wings, so if Karson could just scrap and keep it loose – if we win 50 percent of the ground balls we're going to win most of our games. We just have too many good players," McCarthy said.
Most of the Vikings' goals came in spurts. Dylan Scheeler scored the first goal with 4:07 remaining in the first quarter, and then Sutton and Tyler Holzman each found the back of the net 36 seconds apart early in the second. They led, 3-0, at the half.
Hawks goalie Noah Thyberg stopped two point-blank shots minutes apart in the third quarter to keep his team in it. But a goal-less drought of 28:28 ended when Bryce Brookhart, on the extra-man offense, put his team up 4-0.
Sutton finished off his second goal just six seconds later, as Porter won the draw clean and assisted on the tally. Scott Mackrell's goal with 2:34 left sealed the 6-0 margin.
"They had limited opportunities," McCarthy said. "Part of that is because of Karson winning the face-offs and when we possess the ball, they had to start forcing a little bit. That worked to our advantage."
River Hill coach Keith Gonsouland was quick to congratulate Mt. Hebron on playing an outstanding game. He said the Vikings came out early in the game with more intensity and showed that they wanted it a little more.
"Casey made a couple saves early and we started pressing. They did a great job with the face-off game plan. They just did a phenomenal job. My hats off to them," he said. "Defensively they packed it in and didn't give us any space. It was really tough for us to get our hands free and shoot the ball or even move the ball. It was almost like a pseudo-zone or something. They got us out of our element and frustrated and we pressed."
Mt. Hebron will face Hereford in the state semifinals on either Friday or Saturday at Annapolis High School.
Mt. Hebron (12-5) – 6, River Hill (13-4) – 0 (3A/2A South Region championship)
Goals: MH – Kyle Sutton 2, Dylan Scheeler, Tyler Holzman, Bryce Brookhart, Scott Mackrell; RH – None
Assists: MH – Kyle Watts 2, Jake Edmonson, Karson Porter; RH – None
Saves: MH – Casey DuBois 7; RH – Spencer Gray 2, Noah Thyberg 4
Halftime: 3-0, Mt. Hebron
Howard (13-4) – 17, Magruder – 3 (4A/3A North Region championship)
Goals: Ho – Tristan Kelehan 4, Alex Stephanos 4, Mark Bruner 3, Patrick Sutch 2, Malik Anderson 2, Kendal Cooper, Michael Travisano
Assists: Ho – Bruner 4, Anderson 2, Stephanos, Cole Jarvis
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Saves: Ho – Collin McClelland 5, Devlin Bradley 1