This was no ordinary playoff game for No. 5 Mount Hebron.
A win over top-seeded and 14th-ranked Centennial would give the Vikings' seniors a clean sweep of Howard County competition. The Vikings had lost only once to a county foe -- Centennial in 1990.
Yesterday, the four-time defending county champs didn't leave the outcome in doubt very long. They jumped out to an 8-1 lead in the first 12 minutes and cruised to an 18-7 victory in the Class 3A-4A West regional championship.
"We needed to get up on them early, because we figured their confidence would go down," said Vikings coach P.J. Kesmodel, whose team won the regular-season meeting 15-10.
"They've had a rough up-and-down season. If we got up early, I figured they'd chuck it in and we wouldn't have that much of a battle."
The second-seeded Vikings (14-2) ran it up in a hurry. Lynette Chastant scored two of her game-high five goals as the Vikings offense overwhelmed Centennial with a 4-1 lead in five minutes.
Back-to-back goals by Jen Wienecke and Becca Armiger pulled the host Eagles (12-2) within 8-3 with 5:56 to go before halftime. But the Vikings, who outshot the Eagles 23-11 in the half, answered with five straight for a 13-3 halftime edge.
Eight different Vikings scored. Cathy Nelson scored four goals and an assist. Nicole McGowan, Erin McGinnis and Jen Stocker had two goals and at least one assist apiece. Dani Vissers, Laura Correnti and Amber Fanta added single goals.
Goalie Jen Brooks also turned in a strong performance with 12 saves.
The Vikings advance to the state final four and will play again Friday or Saturday. They had hoped for a shot at four-time defending champ and No. 1 Severna Park, but the Falcons lost, 6-5, to No. 4 Annapolis yesterday in their regional final.
The Vikings know the competition gets much tougher now, but after struggling, especially with a rebuilding defense, early on, they seem to be peaking right on cue.
"We've gone through a lot," said Nelson. "I think everyone's improved individually as well as we've all started playing together as a team. If we're gonna win it's not gonna be individually -- it's gonna be as a team."
On the other hand, Centennial's season has gone in the opposite direction.
"We've been losing ground for about the last two weeks," said Centennial coach Gail Purcell.
"We had a lot of dissension on the team this year. It really shows up in the big games. You can hide that stuff in games where nobody's really going to challenge you, but when it comes down to championship-caliber teams, it really shows."
The Eagles got good performances from midfielders Emily Ward, Becca Armiger and Liz Sturm as well as goalie Chantal Loomis (11 saves).
Defensively, however, the Eagles could not contend with the multi-faceted Vikings offense.
"We don't quite understand how to stay on their players man-to-man," said Eagles defender Jamie Fontaine.
"Their mini-sunshine where they pull -- they've done that a hundred times, and they just go. I don't think we were as defensive-minded as we need to be."
Wienecke led the Eagles with four goals while Sturm added two and Armiger, one.