When a team plays in the toughest soccer region in the state, Class 3A, Region I, every advantage is a big advantage on the path to the state finals.
Centennial (11-1-1 overall, 5-1-1 league) enjoyed one of those big advantages Tuesday afternoon by drawing Liberty (10-3) of Carroll County in the opening round.
It was the second straight year Centennial opened with Liberty. The Eagles won easily again, 4-0, the same score as last year.
By drawing Liberty, Centennial avoided Howard and Oakland Mills, the other kingpins of the region -- who were scheduled to play each other last night -- too late for The Howard County Sun's deadline. Howard, Oakland Mills and Centennial are ranked No. 1, 2 and 3, respectively, by The Sun.
Tuesday's outcome at Angelo Fortunato Memorial Stadium was never in doubt. Liberty had played a weak schedule, so the Eagles were not too worried.
"We knew it better not be a close game, or coach (Bill Stara) wasn't going to be too happy," said Eagles goalie John Bratiotis, who had to make just three saves the entire game.
The Eagles pounced early, scoring three times in the first six minutes.
Many late-arriving Centennial fans, and those who didn't realize the game had an earlier than usual 3 p.m. starting time, missed most of the scoring.
The first goal took place just 54 seconds into the game, as Robert Blanco hit a tapper off an assist from Josh Baer.
Liberty's keeper, Bill Reigel, who played a four-star game with 20 saves, several of them exceptional, was just a second late getting out on the play.
"We were flat. No one was ready on the first goal," Reigel said. "They scored twice off corners, and I just couldn't get out fast enough."
Todd Downen made it 2-0 on a banger from 18 yards out in the fourth minute for the second goal.
And Teddy Oh converted a header off Blanco's corner kick in the sixth minute. It was the sweeper's second goal this year.
"After those first three, I started coming out and challenging them," said Reigel, a junior. "Next year we'll get them."
The score could easily have been 7-0 at halftime if not for Reigel.
"He was making good saves on us," Stara said.