It had been a satisfying spring for Centennial's boys lacrosse team.The Eagles had won six straight games. Their defense had been choking inferior opponents. They were eyeing a county championship and their first playoff berth in 10 years.
And then along came Mount Hebron to wipe the smiles off their faces.
In a game Centennial needed to validate its progress as well as move closer to a county title, Hebron sent the Eagles back to the drawing board Monday with a textbook display of passing, catching, shooting, checking, positioning, whatever.
You name it, the visiting Vikings had it covered Monday in a wire-to-wire, 11-7 victory.
"They (Hebron) played solid defense, moved the ball well on offense, got the ground balls they needed," said Centennial coach Mike Siegert, whose Eagles (3-1 county, 7-2 overall) still have a good shot at the Class 3A/4A playoffs, which begin next week.
"We made some nasty defensive mistakes and they capitalized on them," he added. "It's not likewe got beat by some ragtag team. I don't see anybody beating them."
While winning their seventh consecutive game, the Vikings (4-0, 9-2) looked poised to claim their fourth county championship under fifth-year coach Warren Michael. Hebron also appeared ready to defend itsstate title in the upcoming 1A/2A playoffs.
"We've come up with the big plays when we've needed them. We've managed to execute enough to stay ahead," Michael said. "The main thing is we're good at not beating ourselves. It's fun to watch these guys."
As they have done all spring, the Vikings won with a catalog of weapons. They brandished them immediately Monday.
Goalie Chris Parandian (15 saves) got Hebron started with three saves in the first two minutes. The Vikings then took control of the game by attacking Centennial with an offensemarked as much by its versatility as its perfect passing.
Hebron essentially ended the contest in the first quarter. The Vikings took a 5-0 lead, thanks to five different players. Andrew Ballinger, Clay Shiflett and Carl Bochau (team-high three goals) gave Hebron a 3-0 lead with 6:06 left in the quarter. In the span of 1:06, each of them worked free for wide-open shots on the crease. The Eagles called theirfirst timeout.
The Vikings then pounced on a Centennial mistake.
On the ensuing faceoff, the Eagles' Brian Rhodes was penalized forwearing illegal gloves. The ball went to Hebron, which quickly extended its lead to 4-0 when Doug Smith scooped a behind-the-net pass from Ballinger past goalie Will Hong. Andrew Ward turned a perfect feed from Ballinger into a 5-0 advantage with 3:19 left in the period.
In all, seven Vikings scored, and seven of Hebron's goals came off assists. Ward and attackman Tom Huppman each scored twice, with Huppmancollecting three assists. Jason Vettori added a goal and an assist.
"We felt if we scored early, they might lose their heads," said Hebron defenseman Andrew Pillinger, who hounded attackman Bill Alborn constantly, and held him to two first-half goals. "I peeked out at their huddle (during the Eagles' first timeout), and their heads were down. Once we went up 5-0, I had a pretty good feeling."
Pillinger sparked another fine effort by Hebron's man-to-man defense, which frustrated the Eagles with stick and body checks all afternoon.
The Eagles made their only run in the second period. Trailing 6-2 after thefirst quarter, Centennial's Cullen Meade (three goals, one assist) beat Parandian with 8:30 left in the half to make it 6-3. Alborn scored his second goal at the 5:01 mark to pull the Eagles to within 6-4.
Centennial would not score again for more than 17 minutes. Meanwhile, the Vikings staged a clinic during another 5-0 run, in which theystretched their lead to 11-4 at the beginning of the fourth period.
The first goal during that run was a beauty. After the Eagles closed the gap to 6-4, Hebron won the faceoff and slowed its offense to acrawl. During a two-minute possession, Ward and Bochau kept the ballalive by making tough passes after falling to the ground on the slippery surface. Ballinger then found Huppman on the crease for an easy goal to give Hebron a 7-4 lead with 1:05 left in the half. Vettori scored 20 seconds later to make it 8-4 at halftime.
Hebron blew the game open by taking a 10-4 lead in the third period. The ninth goal featured an excellent clear by Parandian, and a sharp, five-pass sequence that Bochau finished with an open shot on the crease.
"We set a goal this year to win the county championship, but to do that we knew we had to beat Hebron," Siegert said. "They showed us the kinds ofthings that good teams do."