It took 23 games and a regional final before the Centennial baseball team finally met its match this season.
Accustomed to solid pitching, sound defense and anyone in the lineup stepping up, the Eagles ran into a visiting J.M. Bennett team from Wicomico County that beat them at their own game to come away with a 6-1 win in Friday's Class 3A East title game.
The county champion Eagles close out the season at 22-1.
"Just little things started happening - a walk here and an error there and somebody gets a hit and next thing you know they had a couple runs," Centennial coach Denis Ahearn said. "It was just one of those things where we didn't bring our 'A' game and it cost us."
While the sting of their first loss was still at the forefront over the weekend, Ahearn and the Eagles still have plenty of positives to look back on in their 2006 season.
"This was the most balanced team I've had in the four years I've been here," Ahearn said. "The team chemistry was just phenomenal and the growth of each member of the team to step up at certain times and get the job done was incredible. Everybody had to do it at some point or another and it wasn't like just one or two players carried us through the season - it was an entire team effort."
Vikings keep rolling
As the Mount Hebron boys lacrosse team completed Friday night's 10-9 overtime win over North Harford in a Class 3A-2A state semifinal at Reservoir High, it continued what has been a roller coaster season and a sometimes tumultuous journey for the Vikings and coach Tom Minard.
Two days earlier, the Vikings (15-4), who have won nine straight, avenged an embarrassing loss by defeating county rival River Hill, 9-7, for their first regional title.
Top-scoring attackman Tommy Incontrera has led the Vikings, whose playmakers include Justin Martinelli, Chad McCarthy and Bobby Cooke. Their efforts, along with a reshuffling of the defense, landed Mount Hebron in last night's state title game against Urbana of Frederick County at UMBC Stadium. It was the Vikings' first state title game since 2002, when they were crowned state champions one year before Minard replaced Jeff Doolan as coach.
Over the next three years, however, the Vikings failed to break into the top echelon of state powers, instead watching league rivals such as Glenelg become a state runner-up, and Centennial, a two-time state champion.
"My second year, we moved a lot of these kids up to the varsity and we struggled a little bit," Minard said. "But now they're seniors and they've worked their butts off to get where they are."
Minard got this year's Vikings off to an auspicious start by defeating Centennial. Neither the Vikings' current players nor Minard had experienced a win against Centennial, which had won the past six meetings.
"That was a nice hurdle to get over," Minard said. "But this entire season has been about hurdles."
Two of the lowest points for the Vikings were a loss to River Hill, which overcame a seven-goal deficit in the second quarter for a 14-10 victory, and an 11-2 loss to Class 4A-3A state champion Dulaney. The Vikings also were tripped up by Glenelg, 6-5.
"We got humiliated at Johns Hopkins against Dulaney. We got humiliated when Glenelg beat us and then by River Hill, but every time, we would just go back and watch the film and make adjustments," said Minard, whose Vikings also lost a close game to Anne Arundel County power Broadneck.
"We set our schedule up to play extremely tough teams, and everything was to get ready for the last few playoff games," he added. "After we lost to Glenelg and River Hill, I hate to say it, but it might have been the best thing that happened to us because we got refocused."
Raiders' late run
Atholton baseball coach Kevin Kelly can't pinpoint one particular game or a specific area that helped his team turn its season around.
After a 2-7 start, the Raiders stayed on course and dug out, capturing the Class 2A South region on Friday with a 10-6 win over Howard that put them over .500 at 11-10.
"I think we've just started doing the little things really well in terms of getting runners over with the bunt and then being able to follow with the clutch hit. It's one of those things and you just hope it continues," said Kelly, whose Raiders played Eastern Tech in yesterday's state semifinal.
Senior pitchers Dave Lanier (5-5, 1.47 ERA) and Sampson Doyle (5-2, 1.38) have carried most of the burden on the mound in the second half of the season, and junior shortstop Steve Lombardozzi has enjoyed a fine all-around season. At the end of last week, he was hitting .507 with 22 RBIs and 19 runs scored and has teamed with fellow junior second baseman Matt Bryant to give the Raiders a fine double-play combination.
"I'm just really proud of our kids regardless of what happens from this point on," Kelly said after the regional title win. "In some situations like that, when things start to go backwards, you can kind of throw in the towel. But they continued to work hard in practice - doing the same things we've always done - and we starting to do the right things in terms of execution that have really helped us."
The Raiders, who won their only state title in 2002, lost in the regional final the past two seasons.
The Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland recently announced its all-star teams for girls lacrosse and softball.
Among the B Conference selections in lacrosse were Glenelg Country School's Maddie Lynch and Lindsay Menton. In softball, Chapelgate Christian's Lauren Ahrens and Laura Isaac made the C Conference team.