The Fallston girls and C. Milton Wright boys, Harford County's entries in the state soccer championships tonight and tomorrow, will bring in opposite levels of playoff experience to their games.
Although every team has the playoffs and a shot at a championship as a goal, it is safe to suggest that Fallston expected to be at this level. Over the past three seasons, the Cougars lost to Loch Raven in two regional finals, and from last year's state semifinal loser to the Raiders, they lost only one starter.
At the other extreme, C. Milton Wright had not won a playoff game in seven years until it defeated Randallstown two weeks ago.
Second-ranked Fallston (16-0) will open the girls doubleheader at 5:30 tonight at North County High School against No. 10 Oakland Mills (12-4-1) for the Class 1A-2A title. No. 3 Centennial (16-0) will play No. 6 Perry Hall (13-2) for the Class 3A-4A title at 8 p.m.
With the four boys championship games set for Old Mill High tomorrow, C. Milton Wright (12-1-4) will face No. 1 Centennial (14-0-2) at 5 p.m.
The two Harford pairings will be rematches of early-season games, as Fallston stopped Oakland Mills, 3-0, and Wright and Centennial played to a 1-1 tie.
Fallston comes in having played "exceptionally well," according to coach Nancy Ferguson, in last week's 3-2 semifinal victory over Liberty. The Cougars built a 3-0 lead eight minutes into the second half, and Liberty's goals came against a mostly reserve unit.
For the season, the Cougars have used 19 scorers in building a 101-7 goals differential, including 23-2 in four playoff games. Beth Blasi, a junior and two-time team scoring leader, has 17 goals and 13 assists, followed by Courtney Benner (15, six).
Where Fallston has won with offense, C. Milton Wright has done it with defense. Senior sweeper Matt Youngerman, who came back bigger and stronger (6-foot-3, 190 pounds) after missing last season, has had an outstanding season, complementing the job done by junior goalkeeper Tim Hilyard (five shutouts in the regular season, four in the playoffs).
"The difference has been the open tournament," coach Paul Snyder said. "It allowed us to do some things early, such as get a tougher schedule."
The Mustangs lost their opener to Calvert Hall, 4-2, then tied Centennial. The other ties were with Harford County champion North Harford, Fallston and Parkville.
"I think we have grown as a team through adversity, such as the loss and the ties. We played a lot of tough teams and were pretty consistent -- no real highs or lows," Snyder said.
"Joe Davis [a forward] is our leading scorer, yet I believe our defense starts with him, and from there it is a group effort."
Of the playoffs, Snyder added, "After you leave the county, it's all extra, and the kids can only benefit. The farther you go, the more they benefit. We're a young team [four seniors], too, and they get to see the level of play it takes to get this far."