Calvert Hall's soccer team is a close-knit bunch, so close in fact that two of the nine starting seniors, J.J. Kremer and Michael Barger, will celebrate their 17th birthdays tomorrow.
Yesterday, they celebrated early with a 4-1 victory over Mount St. Joseph for the Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference championship. It marked Calvert Hall's 25th soccer title. The first came in 1928, but 15 have come under coach Bill Karpovich since 1970 and 10 of those have come in the last 12 years.
The Cardinals (17-1) began working for next year with 10:25 remaining on the Essex Community College clock, when Karpovich put 11 reserves on the field to preserve the victory. Out came Kremer and Bryan Bugarin, who had combined for 40 goals and 21 assists this season and had helped the Cardinals to three championships in four seasons.
The defense, anchored by Barger at sweeper back, also came to the sidelines. Keeper Larry Rohleder, stopper back Adam Eagan and wing back John Vasilios -- all seniors -- were instrumental in helping the Cardinals tie single-season school defensive records: only six goals allowed and 13 shutouts.
Both marks could have fallen yesterday, but St. Joe (16-7) broke Maury LaPointe free to head in a corner kick from Vince Craig with 1:22 remaining and spoil the Cardinals' record bids. "We were hoping to get both records, but we got what we really wanted," said Kremer, who got the Cardinals untracked six minutes into the second half for a 1-0 lead.
"It was vintage J.J.," said Barger, referring to Kremer's lateral run from the right wing. He beat a defender, hooked inside, beat another defender and hooked inside again. When the third defender committed to the ball, Kremer slipped inside again, finally releasing a left-footed ground shot past a diving goalie and just inside the near post.
"It was frustrating, but it was just a matter of time until we got the first goal," said Kremer.
The Cardinals, who owned a 21-7 shot advantage, have shown a penchant this fall for starting slow and scoring in bunches. Less than four minutes after Kremer broke the ice, Vasilios passed to Bugarin for Calvert Hall's second goal. Ten minutes later, Kremer broke free down the middle, drew the defense to himself and passed off to Bugarin for another easy goal. Senior midfielder James Oh completed the Cards' scoring five minutes later.
The only surprise for Karpovich came with four seconds remaining as his players drenched him with ice water and sprinted to midfield to celebrate.
"I definitely didn't expect that with the game not over," said the veteran coach, who notched his 318th career victory since coming to Calvert Hall in 1967.
"Our junior varsity was unbeaten," he said with a big grin. "They beat Oakland Mills, Howard, Centennial, all the good ones."
Forgotten for the moment was the No. 2-ranked Cardinals' lone varsity defeat this season, a 2-1 squeaker to top-ranked Centennial (13-0-2) early in the season. Centennial faces Thomas Stone Saturday (5 p.m.) for the state Class 3A championship and then the pollsters will decide the final rankings.