Balance is one reason that Centennial has perhaps the best shot at ending Anne Arundel County's recent reign over the state girls 4A-3A soccer tournament.
The top-ranked Eagles underscored that point yesterday, shrugging off South Carroll's marking of two top players and dominating the Cavaliers, 2-0, to win the state Class 4A-3A Region IV title and advance to next Saturday's state semifinals.
Severna Park has won the last three state Class 4A-3A titles and Old Mill won in 1986-87.
The final score was not indicative of the game. From Howard County, host Centennial (14-0) outshot South Carroll, 24-0, while scoring two first-half goals. For the game, the Eagles held a 34-3 edge in shots and took all eight corner kicks.
South Carroll did blank leading Eagles scorers Vicky Brunt and Natalie Rich. But with Eagles halfbacks Mary Ellen Carullo, Jamie Fontaine and Becky Joeckel pressing the play forward, the Cavaliers (8-4-2) did not control a ball past midfield until shortly before halftime. Centennial keeper Laura Bradburn did not make her only save until three minutes from the end.
Still, winning coach Rick Pizarro was concerned. "I'm disappointed. We should definitely be finishing much better. All of those crosses should have produced more goals," he said.
"This has been a problem for two years. We're young [two senior starters], but these girls have been playing soccer for eight years. They still need a lot of work on finishing skills," he said.
However, the play of South Carroll freshman keeper Kendra Pulis was more of a factor. Pulis, who was not even in goal when the season began, included seven point-blank stops among her 17 saves.
"They [Centennial] make as many mistakes as anybody, but they do have the skills. That's probably the hardest I've worked all year," said Pulis, who is playing in goal for the first time since the fourth grade.
With Brunt visibly frustrated by defensive whiz Liz Masterson, junior striker Kelly Butler was the first to pick up the slack. She popped open in front of Pulis, took Alison Bielski's short centering pass and tapped the ball into the left corner after only 1 minute, 54 seconds.
Junior halfback Carullo controlled the rebound of Rich's hard shot off the diving Pulis to net the second goal at 36 minutes.
South Carroll's only opportunity of the half was squandered when freshman Amber Clutter could not head Nicki Robitaille's cross into an open net just before the intermission.
"There's no doubt that Centennial is the most-skilled team we've played," said South Carroll coach Jim Horn. "But we gave up that first goal mostly because we were in awe of the situation. We've never been this far before.
"They scored the second when we pulled Liz [Masterson, to rest a problem knee], but then we gave a good account of ourselves," he said.
Also yesterday, Amy Vaughn scored two goals in the first half to lead host Dulaney (11-2-1) to a 2-0 victory over C. Milton Wright vTC in the Class 4A-3A, Region I final. Meg Truxel and Lisa Welsh each had an assist for the Lions who advance to next Saturday's state semifinals.