If you want to beat Calvert Hall in soccer, you should plan to stop All-Metro midfielder Eric Branham and top-scoring striker Mike Lance.
Visiting Mount St. Joseph (9-10-1) did a good job of both in yesterday's Maryland Scholastic Association quarterfinal, with neither contributing a goal or an assist.
Unfortunately, the Gaels' blueprint didn't include senior striker Chad Piunti, whose 12th goal and fourth assist helped lift the fourth-ranked Cardinals to a 3-0 victory.
"They just had a couple of defensive breakdowns, maybe a little miscommunication," said Piunti, who assisted on the Cardinals' final goal by Steve Rottman late in the game.
Piunti credited teammates Ryan Lachowicz (stopper) and Dan Johnson (sweeper) for silencing All-Metro striker Steve Matcuk (30 goals, four assists).
But keeper Scott Simmons (nine saves) also made two point-blank stops against the Gaels' Jeremy Murray -- the second about one second after the first -- with 11 minutes left in the first half.
"Our defense had a great game today, zoning Steve Matcuk. They were aware of where he was at all times," Piunti said. "A couple of mistakes and that's all we needed to turn the game around."
Ryan Smith gave the Cardinals a 2-0 lead with 28:10 left in the game, batting a defender's weak clear past keeper Greg Seukoff (10 saves).
Calvert Hall (14-1-1), which continues its quest for a 17th crown at home Friday against Friends -- a 4-1 winner over John Carroll -- had an advantage in shots on goal (17-11) and corner kicks (5-1).
But with two of their best contributors heavily marked, the Cardinals were lured out of their controlled-tempo style, "Putting the ball up in the air and forcing it up the middle, which isn't our game," said coach Bill Karpovich.
Branham, who has four each in goals and assists, contended with the elbow-to-elbow defense of midfielder Eric Strouse. Meanwhile,Lance (10 goals, 16 assists), was shadowed by Strouse's teammate, Greg Bronico.
"I think it's the first time I haven't had a goal or an assist," said Lance, whose assists are a school record.
"It seems to me that everywhere I go, in every game, they [defenders] just follow me everywhere," said Branham. "I just try to create things, I don't try to finish them."
The finishing touches were applied by Piunti, beginning with 7:21 left in the first half.
That's when Gaels sophomore sweeper David Jones intercepted long pass about 30 yards from his own goal, dribbled twice and prepared to launch the ball upfield.
But that second dribble strayed 10 yards away from him, giving Piunti time to capitalize. He stole the ball and covered 20 yards in three dribbles before beating a diving Seukoff with a low blast to the short side.
"I've been trying to keep him [Jones] from two-touching the ball," said Strouse. "But it's a fluke thing. He's done a great job the second half of the season, so I feel for him."