Winston Churchill coach Jeff Fritz played on the first high school boys lacrosse team in Montgomery County in the late 1980s and is now in his 25th year as head coach, so he knows the history of lacrosse around the I-495 corridor better than almost anyone.
He and a few others fought for 10 years for the sport to be recognized countywide at the varsity level, and then 10 more years to get JV programs. But it’s also well known throughout the area and the state that despite significant growth for the sport, no Montgomery County team has ever been the last team standing and won a state championship.
The Bulldogs have been the closest, having won regional titles in six of the last seven years with two appearances in the state final. Both times, however, they were overmatched, first in 2015 against a special undefeated Howard team, and then again last year to Severna Park, another undefeated squad.
“We’ve been fighting for years to get a state championship for Montgomery County. So yeah, we are looking for be the first,” Fritz said. “There’s a lot of pride in it.”
Against Howard in a 4A state semifinal at Gaithersburg High School on Saturday afternoon, Churchill looked like a team that is fed up with falling short. The Bulldogs crushed the Lions, building an 8-1 lead in the first half en route to a 14-4 victory to advance to the final for the second straight year and third time in four years.
They will have a rematch with Severna Park, which beat Eleanor Roosevelt, 17-1, in the other semifinal, at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Stevenson University in Owings Mills.
“I think this is the best team Montgomery County has ever seen,” Fritz proclaimed after the win, “but now we need to prove it at the state level, that we’re contenders with the rest of the state.”
Fritz had a hard time answering how his team could’ve played any better against Howard (16-2), which lost for just the second time this spring and was held to a season-low four goals while allowing double-digit goals for the first time.
The Bulldogs stifled one of Baltimore-area’s best faceoff specialists, Towson commit Felix Knorr, with counterpart Merrick Willeford, who won 11 of 16 faceoffs through the first three quarters. Almost all were battles that were decided by groundballs on the wings, which swayed heavily in favor of the Bulldogs. They also dominated offensively and defensively, and their ability to clear the zone, which Fritz said was a problem at times recently, was strong against the Lions.
“Everyone in the state was talking about those two guys [Knorr and Willeford]. It was fun to watch,” Fritz said. “Felix I thought did a fantastic job, and Merrick countered pretty well. I think our wing play was better, which I thought was the difference.”
Offensively, Churchill (16-0) was paced by hat tricks from Ryan Leonard, a Towson commit, Reed Moshyedi and Brady Altobello, and two tallies from Jack Taylor.
Howard coach Jimmy Creighton said the Bulldogs did everything well while his team struggled in nearly all facets of the game.
“That was right from the get-go it seemed like,” he said. “It seemed like we were playing a little bit slow and they were jumping all over us and capitalizing.”
Churchill scored all three goals in the first quarter before Mark Bruner netted his first of three goals for the Lions to cut the deficit to 3-1 early in the second. But the Bulldogs controlled the rest of the frame and finished the half on a 5-0 run to take an 8-1 lead into the break.
Howard showed signs of life early in the second half, as Henry Frazier IV and Bruner scored back-to-back goals, but Churchill answered with a pair of goals 12 seconds apart to spark a six-goal run that extended the lead to 14-3.
“It’s disappointing, absolutely. You can see it in our guys’ faces how disappointed they are,” Creighton said. “They work extremely hard year-round to try to put a run together and we were able to put a run together and it was a lot of fun. We had a great team and we ran into another great team today in Churchill. Credit to them.”
Winston Churchill (16-0) — 14, Howard (16-2) — 4
Goals: WC — Ryan Leonard 3, Reed Moshyedi 3, Brady Altobello 3, Jack Taylor 2, Ryan Shure, Avery Slomnicki, Jimmy Rubino; Ho — Mark Bruner 3, Henry Frazier IV
Assists: WC — Shure 4, Leonard 2, Moshyedi; Ho — Connor Denicola 2
Saves: WC — Andrew Robinson 11; Ho — David Mauser 9
Halftime: 8-1, Winston Churchill