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Centennial boys soccer beats River Hill on penalty kicks to advance to Howard County championship game

In 80 minutes of regulation and 20 more in overtime Thursday night, the Centennial boys soccer team had several chances to separate itself from visiting River Hill in the semifinals of the Howard County tournament.

As it turned out, the Eagles were just fine with earning a trip to Friday’s championship game on penalty kicks.

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After a 1-1 tie through 100 minutes, Centennial got successful PK’s from Eddie Aguilar, Sammy Molz, Andrew Fritz and Kodee Karcher, while goalie Parker Gerrity came up with a key save to help the home team claim a 4-2 win in the shootout.

Centennial will take an 8-1 mark into Friday’s 5 p.m. county championship game against Marriotts Ridge at Wilde Lake. Marriotts Ridge also needed penalty kicks against Howard to advance in the other semifinal.

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With his diving save on Jonah Stoutenborough’s strike aimed for the right corner the highlight of the penalty kick session, Gerrity put the Eagles’ performance in simple perspective shortly after the team celebrated.

“We put all our hearts out there today — it was our game to win,” he said. “We haven’t won a county title in 25-plus years and we want to win.”

On Thursday, the Eagles dominated possession early and got rewarded for their effort midway through the first half.

Senior midfielder Cam Grable sent a ball to the left side that Kevin Salazar put a good first touch on to chip a ball inside the far post from 8 yards.

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The Eagles had opportunities to pad the lead, but two shots from Aguilar hit the post and another chance in front by Karcher went just wide.

In the second half, the Hawks had better play at midfield to get balls forward and create chances. They earned a free kick from 35 yards out that Tony Paulino perfectly placed in the far corner to tie the game at 1.

Centennial had the better of the play in the second 10-minute overtime period with Karcher’s left-footed shot from 15 yards turned away by River Hill goalie Eric Gesell.

The home team wasn’t deterred, proving flawless on its penalty kicks. After Karcher made it 4-2 by finding the lower left corner, River Hill’s Jack Nelson sent his try just over the crossbar.

“It’s all about the players,” Centennial coach Justin Thomas said. “This group is a special group and one thing I try to achieve is making this team player led, because they run it. They love to play, they have great chemistry — the best I’ve seen here at Centennial — and they fight.”

After his Hawks (7-3) surrendered an uncharacteristic four goals to the Eagles just two weeks ago in a 4-3 regular-season loss, River Hill coach Matt Shagogue applauded his team’s performance. Gesell played a solid game in the goal with five saves and his defense held firm, Stoutenborough and midfielder Milan Gupta were the catalysts when pushing forward. Gupta and Paulino finished their chances in the penalty kick shootout.

“We gave up four goals to that team just two weeks ago. [Tonight], we dodged some bullets, but tactically we had a nice plan in place,” he said. “I was really proud of them. We had some injuries, some guys out, and they played hard for 100 minutes. So I’m really proud of them — penalties are tough. It’s the way it goes, but I’m really happy with the way they played.”

Goals: RH — Paulino 2, Gupta; C — Salazar, Aguilar, Molz, Fritz, Karcher

Assists: C — Grable

Saves: RH — Gesell 5; C — Gerrity 7

Half: C, 1-0

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