Centennial girls soccer coach Rick Pizarro has been pushing Mary Ellen Carullo to pester opposing teams' defenders more. He said it wouldhelp her get loose balls and good shots on goal.
On Saturday, thecoach's strategy worked. It also helped Centennial win a state title.
Carullo stole the ball from a Dulaney defender in front of the third-seeded Lions' goal and scored the key goal in fourth-seeded Centennial's 4-1 victory in the Class 3A/4A state title game at Arundel High School.
Centennial (16-0) was clinging to a 2-1 lead when Carullo made her play. Defender Whitney McClelland had the ball facing, and just in front of, the Dulaney goal. Her sister, goalie Courtney McClelland, stayed put and didn't call out what to do.
Carullo raced in, stole the ball from Whitney McClelland and beat Courtney with a shot from no more than 5 feet out. The goal, with 5 minutes, 28 seconds left in the game, locked up Centennial's state title.
Carullo said teammate Vicky Brunt was the key to the play. Carullo said Brunt screamed to her to go in after the ball.
"I just went in there and took it away," Carullo said. "There was no communication (among the Dulaney players)."
Carullo's goal on Saturday helped wrap up a season that saw the junior start slow, but close with a rush. Carullo didn't score until the eighth game, but finished with eight goals. She added three assists to finish fifth in the Centennial scoring race.
"Mary Ellen is very persistent," said Pizarro. "I told her to just persist, just harass, and she was there."
Carullo got a kick out ofscoring a goal that resulted from being in the right place at the right time.
"I always seem to be in the wrong place," Carullo said, smiling.
That goal was the difference. It deflated Dulaney (13-3-1). Corina Riismandel scored an insurance goal a minute later.
"Themarking just stopped," said goalie McClelland.
And that was important, as Centennial threw wave after wave at Dulaney and kept the pressure on. The Eagles outshot the Lions, 20-6, overall.
Dulaney, however, kept the game close most of the way, as it played good defense, led by goalie McClelland. She made 13 saves and stopped the Eagles time and time again.
The big play early in the game revolved around McClelland. Brunt broke in with a ball that McClelland slid to stopwith her knees. The ball bounced back to Alison Bielski, who lined ashot for the open net that defender McClelland was forced to knock down with her hands.
Paige Nettlebladt's ensuing penalty kick headed left, but hit the post and ricocheted in with 2:34 left in the first half.
"It could just have easily not have gone in," said Dulaneycoach Evey Quinn. "We would've started the second half even."
TheLions also had some other troubles in the second half. They had to go into the teeth of a gusting wind.
"I also knew the wind would beworth at least two goals in the second half," Pizarro said.
Centennial scored with 26:05 left in the game. Brunt took a pass from Carullo and beat McClelland to the far post for a 2-0 lead.
Dulaney then came to life. Frances Forcellese led Aimee Vaughan perfectly, and Vaughan put it past goalie Laura Bradburn with her left foot with 22:23 left.
The Lions then stepped up the pressure for the next several minutes, but couldn't score again. Then, Carullo's persistence paid off, and Dulaney was done.
Afterward, the Eagles were cool and collected. They jumped around a bit on the field, got their trophies, met with friends and family and slowly made their way back to the bus.
There were no wild back-flips, no victory laps. Just the quiet confidence of a standout team.
Maybe they expected to win. Maybe they expect to win again next year. Pizarro said only two seniors were on the team.
Pizarro, in his first year at Centennial, deflected praise, saying the girls won the championship, not him. He was low-key.
Maybe that's why the celebration was as well.