Ian Minnichbach, a sophomore goalkeeper who did not move up to the varsity until the fourth game of the season, stood the tallest for Bel Air last night.
After 100 scoreless minutes, and a 9-9 tie through the first shootout round, it came down to sudden death. With the score 1-1, Bel Air senior standout Jarrad Decastro beat Winston Churchill keeper Bryan Scherr, and Minnichbach thwarted Jason Mayo, deflecting his shot away.
The decision, marked by a wild celebration and a mobbing of Minnichbach by his teammates, sends Bel Air (10-4-2) into the Class 3A championship game against Centennial Saturday at Old Mill High School.
This marked the eighth time in Bill Jefferson's 29 years as head coach that the Bobcats had made it this far, but Saturday's final will be his first championship appearance.
"I told the players, there was no telling what might happen in the future, so make the most of this one," Jefferson said.
On a night when the temperature was in the high 30's and the Catonsville Community College field was a slippery, soggy mess, both teams struggled in what became a punishing, physical battle.
At the end, Bel Air had a 22-16 edge in shots, and Scherr was credited with 19 saves to 11 for Minnichbach.
In the first shootout, 11 against 11, Churchill got an edge when Tidd Tabor, Bel Air's leading scorer, had his shot saved. Minnichbach got his side even after the Bulldogs had made seven straight.
Moments later, Churchill went one ahead, but again Minnichbach came through to kick out a shot. Two of the Bel Air players who scored were junior Brian Piotrowski and sophomore Don Maney, who had taken penalty kicks for his JV team.
In the sudden death, junior back Billy Nelson, with the strongest foot around -- he was booming 50-yard kicks all night to keep his team out of possible trouble -- asked to go first, and made it.