Mt. Hebron field hockey coach Jeanette Ireland put it bluntly: Her Vikings played a flat first half against Centennial in the MPSSAA Class 3A East, Section II final on Monday. The 28th-year coach struggled to identify a reason why, considering it was the biggest game to date for the Vikings this season. Not why the game was tied at halftime — knowingly acknowledging the Eagles’ toughness — but why her stout Vikings surrendered so many opportunities.
Whatever it was, Ireland told her Mt. Hebron squad that they needed to play with gumption because elimination loomed. Sure enough, before the second half was three minutes old, Vikings senior Erin Demek busted open the floodgates with a five-hole goal spawned off a corner try. Two more Mt. Hebron scores came shortly after, as they turned up the heat in the second half to escape with a 4-1 victory at home and into the region final at Anne Arundel County’s Chesapeake on Wednesday.
“I said to the kids, [Centennial] came out with a high level of intensity, we need to raise our level. And I was really happy with our second half. I thought we were a little sluggish in the first half,” Ireland said. “I have to say that Centennial played an awesome game, because we had played them earlier in the season and, boy, they just came out fired up.
“I didn’t think we played too particularly sharp. I wasn’t too worried because I knew we can score. I was really pleased with the way they stepped up.”
The Vikings, who outnumbered the Eagles in corners 8-2, were in a similar situation last year when Centennial took a 1-0 lead in the section semifinals before Mt. Hebron added three goals late in a 3-1 win.
On a nippy fall evening, it took Centennial 1 minute, 40 seconds to net its first goal when Lauren Muma scored one at the doorstep off a slick cross pass from Camden Blevins.
Less than three minutes later, Mt. Hebron’s Ellie Miller cleaned up a jostle spurred by a corner at the front of the net to knot the game at 1-1. For the final 25 minutes of the first half, the Vikings controlled the time of possession, but couldn’t find the back of the twine.
The ball stayed put in Mt. Hebron territory for a 17-minute stretch in the first half, only to have every opportunity snuffed by the Eagles defense.
Centennial’s Meg Thompson made a kick save and Annabel Baldy disrupted two Mt. Hebron corner tries with strong forecheck play during the span.
“The plan was to continue to play strongly and to play our game, and as they got opportunities, to shut them down and make adjustments when things happen,” Centennial coach Lizz Engle said. “We came out fired up and ready to go. It was great to get that goal right away and give us the momentum.”
Centennial had two good looks to score with less than four minutes left in the first half, when Baldy slapped a shot toward the net, but sailed wide right.
But the second half was dominated by Mt. Hebron, which took the lead for good off Demek’s five-hole score.
Roughly six minutes later, Esha Shah scored on a cross in the slot when Miller slipped it to her from the right side of the net, which made it 3-1.
Shah, who also notched a pair of assists, added another goal at the under-15 mark, which swelled the Vikings advantage to 4-1.
Centennial made one last push with under two minutes to go when Muma ringed a shot off the post, but once the clock hit 0:00, the Vikings were the ones who made a mad celebratory dash toward goalkeeper Hailey Conklin.
“We were there physically, but not mentally,” said Miller, who also added an assist. “In the second half, we really stepped up and showed up mentally, too. … Coming out of halftime, we were all like, ‘We do not want this to be our last game.’ We got the corner, and then I scored. And that really set it off. We got our energy back.
“We can’t come out slow on Wednesday.”
Both teams fired off four shots at goal. Mt. Hebron will now play for its first regional title since 2013, facing Chesapeake, which defeated J.M. Bennett, 4-1, on Monday.
“They’re tough, tough team; very talented,” Ireland said. “We just have to take one game at a time.”