Centennial overcame its inability to finish and the inspired play of Howard to register a 1-0 overtime win yesterday in a first-round Class 2A South Region playoff game at Howard.
"We were lucky to get out of it alive," said Centennial coach Gail Purcell. "We had scoring upon scoring opportunities, and we could not finish."
The Eagles (10-4-1) put on an exhibition of ways to score -- from breakaways to shots that slipped past the post to passes that went untouched in front of the Howard goal. Finally, with 5: 53 left in the first overtime, they scored on a well-executed play made easier because there were only seven players on the field.
Centennial's Laura Gaudio, standing near midfield, sent a strong crossing pass to the right side, where Caitlin Marshall was waiting. Marshall used her speed and raced down the sideline. She sent a sharp crossing pass that eluded Howard goalie Melissa Taylor and found the stick of teammate Laura Angle.
"I was open and hit it in the goal," said Angle, matter of factly.
It was the second straight time Howard and Centennial had played into overtime. The Eagles needed Tara Molesky's goal Friday for a 2-1 victory at Howard.
"I figured if we could get to overtime we would be OK because of the way we played Friday," said Purcell. "We do a lot better when we're spread out."
Centennial plays host to Hammond (7-4-2) tomorrow in a quarterfinal game. The Eagles beat the Golden Bears, 6-1, at Hammond on Oct. 1.
While Centennial dominated much of the second half and overtime yesterday, Howard made things difficult. Taylor (10 saves) and Sara Lough played well defensively and Kim Palmer had an exceptional game, especially with her free hits.
"They played extremely well," said first-year Howard coach Karen Geppi, who will graduate six seniors. "I couldn't ask anything more of them, except maybe to have scored a goal."
Added Geppi: "They played their hearts out, we just couldn't connect. [Centennial] has the speed that we lack a little of, and that played a big factor in their win."
Howard (4-7-2) played five solid games to end the season. The Lions, who have won a total of four games the last two seasons, lost to co-county champion Long Reach, 2-1, in overtime before wins over Walkersville and Atholton. Then came the back-to-back overtime losses to Centennial.
"We really proved ourselves," said Palmer, who, along with Taylor, Sara Lough, Erin Holmes, Colleen Kirby, and Lindsay Reinbold played their last game for the Lions.
"To compete with Long Reach and Centennial is such a great improvement," Palmer added. "We played as a team today; we just didn't connect. We had 10 corners [to 11 for Centennial], but we just couldn't get it in the goal."
While Howard will miss the six graduating seniors, the program should continue to improve under Geppi, who plans to return.
A sixth-grade science teacher at Mayfield Woods Middle School, Geppi is the third coach in three years at Howard.
"I want to be back," said Geppi. "I like the school. I like the girls. The program is getting stronger."
Geppi, who graduated last year from Salisbury State, didn't expect to be a head coach so soon, but certainly has made the best of it.
"It's a great opportunity and I love it here," she said.