Pete Caringi's new, non-mustachioed look suited him well, but that's not what had him smiling as the sun began to set yesterday in Catonsville.
The UMBC men's soccer coach got his shave -- the first since adolescence by his account -- as he promised he would do if UMBC won the Northeast Conference championship. The Retrievers did just that, defeating Mount St. Mary's, 2-1, in front of 1,650.
P. J. Wakefield's goal from 12 yards won the game for the 19th-ranked Retrievers (19-0-1), who extended their unbeaten streak to 20 games and will play an NCAA tournament play-in game next weekend at Lafayette. The conference tournament title was UMBC's first at the Division I level.
"This has been unbelievable," Caringi said. "I've been in this sport a long time. This is a special team, and this is a special day."
There are other ways to describe a day in which you substitute a sophomore reserve and he scores your game-winner 12 seconds later, but special will do.
Wakefield, a Calvert Hall graduate who said his last game-winning goal was against Archbishop Curley on this field two years ago, came in for Louie Karko in the 79th minute.
"I just wanted to bring some energy to the game," Wakefield said. "I didn't expect [the opportunity] to be there 12 seconds in, but it was a great feeling."
Ty Engram, guarded tightly throughout the game, dribbled the ball deep down the right side, then crossed the ball to Wakefield. Right behind Giuliano Celenza, who was also intensely marked by Mount defenders, Wakefield hammered the ball beyond the reach of goalie Rob Ray, who, otherwise, had a great day.
The Mount had played a possessed brand of defense against a UMBC team that had blistered it for three goals one week before.
The plan, well-executed for the most part, was to load everyone at its end of the field and to allow the Retrievers as little room as possible, and then counterattack.
Players such as Greg Loftus and Niall Lepper stuck tightly to UMBC's main scoring threats, Celenza and Engram, the source of goals in the last match. When the Retrievers did get chances, Ray gobbled up their shots.
For a while, it worked, with Simon Hodkin putting the Mount ahead 1-0 off of an assist from Marty Stiteler in the 23rd minute.
But the momentum wouldn't last, especially with the ball at the Mount's end of the field for, conservatively, 80 percent of the game. Pat Halter, named the MVP, tied it in the 41st minute.
Goals: MSM--Hodkin; UMBC--Halter, Wakefield. Assists: MSM--Stiteler; UMBC--Engram 2. Saves: MSM--Ray 5; UMBC--Rowland 2. Half: 1-1.