Tied at two against Reservoir in the second round of the 3A playoffs Tuesday, Centennial's Kelli Dunagan stepped up for her team at a crucial time.
Eagles coach Steve Baxter had moved Dunagan up top in place of injured leading scorer Jasmine McCree and three minutes after he made the switch, Dunagan responded with a laser from atop of the 18-yard box to give Centennial its first lead of the game and the eventual, 3-2, victory.
“I think overall going in to the game we wanted to come back and win after losing last week and last year they beat us in the playoffs,” Dunagan said. “I think the beginning of the game to halftime our mindset was that we deserve to win. We were the better team… our whole mindset was just that we were better.”
The third-seeded Gators got the best out of the second-seeded Eagles in their regular season game on Oct. 20, 1-0. It was an evenly matched contest in the first meeting and Tuesday’s performance proved no different. However, both coaches were surpised with the amount of goals scored in the playoff rematch, considering the two touted the best defenses in the county this season. They each respectively had let up just seven goals against all year.
“Steve and I talked on Saturday and we both said we’ll see you at the 1-0 game on Tuesday. So yeah, I don’t know what the heck happened,” said Reservoir coach Phil Ranker. “I guess it just speaks to the talent on both teams. Both of us all year I think gave up 14 total goals and then there’s five in this game it’s pretty crazy.”
The Gators got on the board first, putting away their opening goal with just five minutes etched off the clock.
The play started with Reservoir winning a 50-50 ball off a Centennial goal kick. Senior Kelly Sullivan then gained possession and threaded a perfect through ball to Blair Vant Hoff who neatly placed her shot – her team’s first of the night – past Eagles goalkeeper Courtney McVicker (four saves) for the score.
“We didn’t win the ball in the air and they scored the first goal and sometimes that’s all it takes,” Baxter said. “The first goal I felt like I was in the twilight zone – I don’t know how to explain it. I was like, ‘OK that’s tough,’ because it was going to be tough to score again and then here we go we score another time to tie it.”
McKenna Griffin knotted the game at one about 10 minutes later, finding a great cross played in from outside the box. She headed her shot over Gators goalkeeper Janie Romer (eight saves) for the score.
“The goals were great. We haven’t had a good header goal all season," Baxter said. "It was a great game. Wow – that’s all I got to say.”
Kylie Toler broke the stalemate just six minutes in to the second half. Again Sullivan was in on the assist, feeding Toler inside the box where the senior had space to take a touch and bury her shot in the left netting for the goal.
“Kelly Sullivan [was] phenomenal tonight. Set up both goals with her flicks with her head,” Ranker said.” We had some chances. There were a couple that were close. Their keeper made some good saves, but yeah, it was a back and forth game. I said before coming in to my wife and the other coaches, I thought it was going to be a coin flip who was going to come out because we knew both teams are phenomenal. It just so happen they got the last one in.”
Reservoir held on to the, 2-1, advantage until 23:15 remaining.
McCree was the catalyst on the game-tying play. She took the ball down alongside the edge of the 18, cut it back and centered a pass to Dunagan, who muscled for positioning in the box and managed to sneak her shot past Romer to tally her first goal of the game.
“I just remember the defender was trying so hard to get it from me and I had my arm extended and the goalie was in front of me cutting off every angle,” Dunagan recalled. “It was very difficult to even get a shot off. I was so worried I was going to hit it right at the goalie.”
With about 15 minutes to go in regulation, McCree went down with an injury and stepped off the field, forcing Baxter to move Dunagan from midfield to forward.
“It’s very hard to match Jaz’s intensity and skill,” Dunagan said. “It was scary switching to up top knowing that she might not come back in. I felt like I really had to step up to match her.”
She didn't look frightened. It took just three minutes after McCree stepped off for Dunagan to make an impact.
She received a pass atop the 18-yard box, turned and rocketed a shot over the outstretched hand of Romer to give her team the go-ahead score.
“That last goal was the best goal I’ve seen against us in three years, so what else can you do besides say she’s a heck of a player and made a great play,” Ranker said. “I told them at the end that I rather lose this way where you felt like you played a good game and it just took a couple individual efforts on Centennial’s part.”
The Gators moved to three up top after looking at their first deficit of the game with just more than 12 minutes left. They pressed for the equalizer, but the Eagles – with McCree back in marking Toler – withstood the pressure, ate up time and pulled out the postseason victory, knocking out the reigning 3A South Region champs.
“Who would have thought, 3-2 against us playing each other? No way," Baxter added. "It was the best game I coached in a long time.”
After a 7-3-1 county mark, the Gators end their season at 8-4-2 overall. They start a new chapter next season, as they graduate 11 seniors including their four captains, Toler, Leah Simmons, Shelly Ignacio and Cassidy Pham.
“What can you say about my senior class? They are phenomenal,” Ranker said. “Not only are they excellent soccer players, they are all really good kids. It will be tough to think about moving on with out them next year. They are not going to be able to be replaced. All four of my captains – Shelly, Leah, Kylie and Cassidy – every game they came with full intensity… We have 11 seniors, so it will be tough. I’m holding back emotionally, trying to hold it together knowing we are not going to be together again for another game.”
As for the Eagles (7-3-1, 11-3-1), they move on to play top-seed Atholton in the 3A region semifinal.
The Raiders defeated Centennial in overtime in their regular season matchup on Sept. 22.
“Atholton [is] the only team that we did not out-shoot the entire season,” Baxter said. “I think that’s something where I have an idea of what we need to do a little bit different, but it’s just going to come down to two good teams like you saw tonight.”
(2) Centennial (7-3-1, 11-3-1) 3, (3) Reservoir (7-3-1, 8-4-2) 2 (Tuesday, Nov. 1)
Goals: C – Dunagan 2, Griffin; Re – Vant Hoff, Toler.
Assists: C – McCree; Re – Sullivan 2.
Saves: C – McVicker 4; Re – Romer 8.
Around the league:
(1) Atholton (9-1-1, 12-2-1) 1, (5) Long Reach (2-6-3, 3-8-3) 0 (Tuesday, Nov. 1)
The Raiders opened up their playoff run Tuesday with a 1-0 victory against the visiting Lightning.
The game was scoreless until the final 13 minutes of regulation. Junior Elana Hamet was credited for the goal, which came off a Sofia Harrison throw-in that deflected off the chest of Long Reach goalkeeper Stephanie Moy (six saves) and in to the net.
The Raiders defense did the rest to preserve the shutout, with junior goalkeeper Bryce Bathras collecting four saves in her first playoff win.
The top-seeded Raiders are set to take on Centennial in the 3A South Region semifinal. Atholton got the best of the Eagles, 2-1, in overtime on Sept. 22.
Goals: A – Hamet.
Saves: A – Bathras 4; LR – Moy 6.
(3) Wilde Lake (4-6-1, 7-6-2) 3, (2) Hammond (4-6-1, 6-7-2) 1 (Tuesday, Nov. 1)
The Wildecats defeated the hosting Golden Bears Tuesday and continued their playoff push to try and get back to the 2A state championship.
Wilde Lake spread its offense around, as it tallied three separate goal scorers with each play registering an assist.
Nicola Arnovitz, Julianna Bonner and Sahar Zoghi all netted a score for the Wildecats, while Zoghi also added an assist on the night.
Jenna Hutchison recorded four saves for Wilde Lake, while Vicki Howard finished with seven stops for Hammond.
The Wildecats are set to take on top-seed River Hill in the 2A North Region semifinal.
Goals: WL – Arnovitz, Bonner, Zoghi.
Assists: WL – Zoghi, Vong, Nguyen.
Saves: WL – Hutchison 4; Ha – Howard 7.
(1) River Hill (7-2-2, 10-3-2) 2, (5) Glenelg (3-6-2, 6-8-2) 0 (Tuesday, Nov. 1)
The top-seeded Hawks opened up their playoff run with a solid, 2-0, victory over the fifth-seeded Gladiators Tuesday.
Junior captain Carly Wetzel gave River Hill the initial 1-0 advantage about 10 minutes in. Not long after, sophomore Brigette Wang added another for the Hawks, which put them up two at the break.
River Hill’s defense did the rest and held off Glenelg, who defeated Marriotts Ridge in the first round of the 2A playoffs.
The Hawks will host third-seeded Wilde Lake in the 2A North Region semifinal.
Goals: RH – Wetzel, Wang.
Halftime: 2-0, River Hill.
2) Dulaney 4 (Tuesday, Nov. 1) (3) Howard (7-2-2, 8-5-2) 0.
Dulaney ended Howard’s season Tuesday, as it knocked out the visiting Lions, 4-0, in the second round of the 4A playoffs.
(1) St. Paul’s (13-0 IAAM B, 15-0) 1, (8) Glenelg Country (5-7-1 IAAM B, 6-8-1) 0 (Tuesday, Nov. 1)
St. Paul’s ended the Dragons season Tuesday, defeating them, 1-0, in the quarterfinal round of the IAAM B playoffs.
Glenelg Country, who had lost to St. Paul’s, 4-0, in its regular season matchup, played the top-seed hard and allowed just the lone goal, which came in the second half of action.
Sophomore Shay Ahearn played big in net, collecting 17 saves.
It was a productive year for the Dragons in their first season in the IAAM B conference, finishing 6-8-1 overall.
Saves: GCS – Ahearn 17.