For nearly 20 minutes Wednesday, the Marriotts Ridge boys lacrosse team kept Hereford’s attack from scoring a goal and the rest of the time, the No. 12 Mustangs were effective in the Class 2A state championship game.
They executed their game plan to near perfection: Stay patient and deliberate on attack and pay close attention to Hereford star attackman JD Nozemack on defense.
After the Mustangs earned an 8-6 win over No. 7 Hereford – capturing the program’s first state championship in its first try – coach Tony Incontrera had one final order for his team: Savor the occasion.
“There’s only a few teams that get to finish the season with a win, so its an opportunity that everybody shoots for and you want to embrace that moment,” he said. “It’s a moment that you worked for from March 1 until now and for these guys, they started working for it last June. So, yeah, I defintiely wanted them to soak it in because they earned it.”
Senior midfielder Brett Gladstone scored three goals to lead the attack and sophomore Patrick Greene, assigned to Nozemack most of the game, led a collective effort from the close defense with junior goalie Colin Kelley stopping six shots.
After a 13-6 loss to Howard County rival Glenelg on April 13, the Mustangs (17-2) didn’t lose another game, including a 7-6 double overtime win against the same Gladiators during the region playoffs.
On Wednesday, the Mustangs used a similar blueprint to shut down Hereford, which — much like Glenelg — likes to play fast and aggressive. The Bulls, winners of a state-record nine titles, came in averaging more than 14 goals a game with Nozemack entering the game with 60 goals and 62 assists. They could only muster three goals past the midway point of the fourth quarter while the Mustangs had taken hold of the game with a five-goal advantage that was built after the game was tied at 3 at halftime.
“At halftime, it was just, ‘This is our last 24 minutes together as a team.’ That was the basis of our talk,” Incontrera said. “It was just, ‘We’ve got 24 minutes and there’s no tomorrow, so lets just go all out.’ It was, ‘Leave it all out there,’ and they did.”
Gladstone scored his second goal on the Mustangs’ opening possession of the third quarter, giving them a 4-3 lead they would never relinquish with Logan Frank (two goals) scoring less than a minute later for a 5-3 lead with 10:37 left in the quarter.
Defensively, Greene worked well with fellow close defenders Andrew Page and Ricky Fedorchak to contain Nozemack and the rest of the Bulls with Kelley coming up with a couple of stops to enable the five-goal run to carry into the fourth quarter.
Troy Hettinger and Peter Geier scored before Gladstone scored again to make it 8-3 with 7:42 left in the game.
Nozemack finally found some room, ending the Bulls’ scoring drought at 19 minutes, 52 seconds when he scored his second goal with 5:54 left to make it 8-4. The Bulls would get closer with goals from Troy Tuveson and Will Reott, but the game and championship belonged to the Mustangs.
“You really can’t put it into words. It’s just great to end the season with a win,” said Hettinger, a standout senior midfielder. “I would probably say once we bounced back from that Glenelg game and we went on the win streak … we just kept on rolling and then the playoffs, we beat Glenelg and just gained huge confidence. … We all knew we could do this and sitting here today with a win is just a great feeling.”
No public school team in the state enters a season with higher expectations than Hereford, which has made the state tournament every season since 2008.
The Bulls came into the title game with 16 straight wins and had outscored their first four playoff opponents by a whopping 84-5 margin. They could never find their precise, frenzied pace against the Mustangs’ methodical style. Hereford coach Sal Picataggi likened it to a basketball game featuring a team that gets up and down the floor in a hurry against one that likes slow-down halfcourt sets.
“Our goal every year is to be here and win it,” Picataggi said. “We’re disappointed. Obviously we fell short. We knew we were playing a great team, knew we were going to be in for a dogfight. … They had a great game plan. All the credit to that team over there that won. They just executed everything they wanted to do perfectly.”
Goals: MR – Gladstone 3, Geier 2, Frank 2, Hettinger; H – Nozemack 2, Tuveson, Griffey, Reott, Gibbons.
Assists: MR – Ingersoll 3, Geier; H – Baldwin, Furman.
Saves: MR – C. Kelley 6; H – Talbott 7.
Half: Tied, 3-3