When Centennial ousted Mt. Hebron in the first round of the playoffs last year in overtime, Erin Demek, Georgia Ryan and the rest of the Vikings bottled the distaste and vowed a different script the following spring.
“[Losing to] any other team would be horrible, but to them, it was especially bad,” Ryan said on Monday. “We never wanted to feel that way again.”
Even throughout the regular season, that excruciating loss lurked and motivated, until Mt. Hebron finally got what it sought Monday night: A playoff rematch with rival Centennial.
Like Demek and Ryan proclaimed, there would be no letdown the next time around, as the Vikings started on the right foot and finished emphatically to exact revenge on their rival Eagles, 10-5.
Demek produced a hat trick and Ryan recorded eight saves for Mt. Hebron, which advances to the 3A East region title game Wednesday night against Chesapeake from Anne Arundel County. The site is to be determined.
“We wanted them from the very start of the season. We wanted redemption so bad,” Ryan said. “We wanted to blow them out of the water. And that’s what we did.”
The last two meetings between the two were decided by one-goal apiece – 8-7 in last year’s playoffs and 14-13 in the lone regular season matchup – and it appeared Monday’s rematch was destined for the same.
Three times Centennial cut multi-goal deficits into one, and it pulled to within 5-4 a minute into the second half thanks to Claudia Pilcher (three goals). But seemingly every time the Eagles clawed closer, the Vikings had an answer.
Ellie Miller and Ashley Unkenholz got Mt. Hebron (11-5) out to a 2-0 lead seven minutes into regulation, but after Carolina Pelligrini made it a one-goal game, Lindsay Cornell and Michelle Pak (two goals) extended the Vikings’ advantage to 4-1 soon after.
When Pilcher capped a two-goal swing and made it 4-3 with 21.9 seconds to go in the first half, Demek received the draw control and shuffled it to Pak, who then found the back of the net with eight seconds left until halftime.
And then once Pilcher pulled Centennial to 7-5 with 10:44 remaining in regulation, Demek piled on two straight goals and Cornell added another to seal the deal.
“Whatever came our way, we needed to be level-headed, take it in stride, and move on to the next play,” Mt. Hebron coach Lindsay Menton said. “Rivalries are great, and you have to enjoy it. But you can’t let it impact our focus and our game plan.”
Mt. Hebron fired just two more shots than Centennial — 22-20 — but its relentless swarm to the ball made life tough for the Eagles offense.
“It intimated them,” Demek said.
While the Vikings flowed with continuity, the Eagles could only find success in bursts and never maintained momentum. Centennial coach Bethany Cunha attributed the loss to poor shot placement and added her team came out jittery, which only snowballed.
“It would’ve been a very different game if we would’ve found the net tonight. Plain and simple,” Cunha said. “They found the net and we didn’t. … It just didn’t materialize.”
Centennial finishes the season 4-10 overall and, while it graduates Pilcher, the team’s leading scorer, the Eagles return its second leading scorer in Marissa Lagera.
“We’ve had a heck of a season,” Cunha said. “We’ve gone up against the best of the best this season. We were bumped into the upper tier without ever having been there before. We knew we were the dark horse in the race – that was our team slogan from the get-go. … No regrets. I knew they fought as hard as they possibly could. We just needed a little magic tonight and it wasn’t there for us.”