A stifling Catonsville defense and the hustle of senior Ethan Clark proved to be the difference in the host Comets’1-0 triumph over Perry Hall (6-7-1) in the Class 4A North Region Section I boys soccer quarterfinals.
It was the fifth straight shutout victory for the Comets (6-5-1).
Clark scored the game’s only goal with 24:43 left in the first half when he out-hustled a defender to a ball sent down the right sideline by Will Miller and drilled it off the far post into the goal.
“The goalkeeper was a little off his line and I just hit it,” Clark said. “You don’t get many opportunities and you’ve just got to take every one you can get.”
“That’s the second game in a row he’s had an outstanding goal, win a challenge, push through, dribble, and have a rocket of a shot,” Catonsville coach Brendan Kennedy said.
Perry Hall had two solid chances to break the scoreless tie before Clark’s goal, but both shots by freshman Zach Eichelberger were saved by Catonsville goalie Eli Miller.
“Their keeper is another difference maker for them,” Perry Hall coach Pete Eibner said. “The kid plays great. He made two or three good saves in the first half and in the second half we couldn’t get one by him and that’s the game.”
The one shot Eichelberger did get by him came with 2:05 left in the game, but the ball caromed off the center of the crossbar.
“Sometimes they go in and sometimes they don’t,” Eibner said. “That’s painful though, it hit the crossbar with two minutes left.”
Eichelberger was one of the key players to stop, but the Catonsville defense, that included Van Hmung, Dexter Weinkam, Tim Delaney, Wyatt Gentner and Mark Brady, controlled the 50/50 balls.
“Their backs did an excellent job of winning the ball,” Eibner said. “We did not have much success splitting their backs and any ball that was in the air, they stepped through and won. That, I thought was the difference in the game.”
Hmung, a tri-captain along with Clark and David Plumer, was focused on not letting Eichelberger run free.
“The main target for us were number three (Eichelberger) and number 11 (Erick Kim) because they were the main ones sending through balls, so me and Dexter (Weinkam) tried to shut down three,” Hmung said.
In the last 17 minutes, Brady blocked a shot headed for the goal and Gentner and Emmett Aler cleared dangerous balls in the box.
With just over three minutes left, the Comets nearly got a two-goal cushion when Plumer fed Thang Khual, but his shot sailed inches over the crossbar.
A minute later, Eichelberger’s ball was spit back by the crossbar and Hmung breathed a sigh of relief.
“My heart sank, I didn’t think he was going to shoot that because my two people in the back did a good job running there,” Hmung said.
Meanwhile, Clark has become accustomed to watching his defense rise to the challenge.
“These last five games we haven’t given up a goal and we’ve been scoring a lot, so we are definitely on a roll right now,” Clark said.
Catonsville coach Kennedy agreed.
“Obviously, we’ve had a much better second half then the first, just a lot of changes and the IQ is much sharper, we are jelling much more as a team and we’ve got a good identity and we are making much better decisions than we did in the first half of the season,” he said.
Catonsville will play at Dulaney in the sectional semifinals on Tuesday, Oct. 30.