It's up to No. 10 Annapolis to keep the State 4A/3A boys lacrosse banner in Anne Arundel County when the Panthers meet Baltimore County's No. 14 Dulaney at 6 p.m. tonight at UMBC.
Anne Arundel County has claimed the state crown in the largest school enrollment division since 1992.
Dulaney won the first two titles in 1990 and '91 when lacrosse became an official state championship sport, but an Anne Arundel team, including Annapolis in 1994, has won it every year since.
"We have a great chance to win, the way we've been playing at the end of the season," said Annapolis coach Dan Hart. "If we play hard-nosed Annapolis lacrosse, we can win it."
Broadneck ended Dulaney's string of three straight titles (including a region title in '89) with a 10-7 victory in the '92 state final. The Bruins repeated in 1993, and Annapolis won it all in 1994, going 16-0.
Arundel won the 1995 title and Broadneck came back to win the next two. The Bruins' hopes of a "three-peat" this season ended in a 13-9 region final loss to Annapolis in what was the Panthers' only home game out of four per the blind draw format.
Annapolis (15-2) has reeled off five consecutive wins leading up to tonight's finale. The Panthers started the East regional with an 18-3 romp over North County, a team that had upset them, 8-7, in regular season.
Trailing 10-7 going into the last period of their quarterfinal at Chesapeake, the Panthers roared back to edge the Cougars, 14-13, and followed that up with an 11-3 triumph at Queen Anne's in the semis. It was over on the Eastern Shore at Queen Anne's that the Panthers were knocked out of last year's regional.
Annapolis then took what Hart called "a really, really sweet win" over defending state champion Broadneck to advance to the final four.
South Carroll provided little opposition once the Panthers got rolling in the state semifinal. After a slow 5-3 advantage at the half, the Panthers erupted for nine unanswered goals in the second half to bury the Carroll County team.
Senior attackman and four-year player Steve Brianas, who has scored 21 goals and four assists in the postseason, led the Panthers with six goals and Craig Rentch chipped in with four goals and an assist.
Brianas/Rentch have been the county's most potent offensive duo. Brianas, who is headed for UMBC, leads the county with 56 goals and 20 assists with Rentch, another four-year player who will attend Washington College, recording 49 goals and 19 assists.
Hart is counting on their firepower and his defense, led by Mike Donlin, to counter high-scoring Dulaney (15-1).
"Dulaney has three excellent attackmen who have scored 40 goals or more each, so it could come down to their attack against our defense," said Hart, who is completing his 10th season as Annapolis coach. "They also have strong middies and are good in transition, similar to us in taking it up and down and right to the hole."
Donlin, who Hart calls "our leader," teams up with junior Paul Haberlein to give the Panthers a very physical close defense.
The Annapolis midfield is not lacking in aggressive play either with seniors Pete Ludlam, who Hart said is "the best faceoff man I've ever coached," and Brad Downer and sophomores Willie Phillips and Josh Lesko.
Phillips, who also plays soccer and basketball, has 18 goals and 15 assists and is an expert at scooping up ground balls. He plays on the first midfield with Ludlam and Downer and is spelled by Lesko.
"We're going to be tough to beat if we play our game," said Hart, whose teams have gone 68-9 over the last five years. "We're playing an excellent team and this will be our toughest game of the year.
"When you get this far, there is a certain amount of fear playing the championship game and you have to overcome it. Playing hard-nosed Annapolis lacrosse is the way to do it."
If the Panthers win the state title, Hart will consider retiring and going out on top. Next year will be the former Meade physical education teacher/coach's 30th in the Anne Arundel County school system.
Pub Date: 5/20/98