Midfielder Pat Halter, goal-less in the regular season, scored twice in the first 25 minutes yesterday as UMBC rolled past Monmouth, 5-0, in the first round of the Northeast Conference men's soccer tournament in Catonsville.
Halter, a Mount Hebron product, added two assists as the Retrievers (18-0-1) took a 3-0 halftime lead and cruised into tomorrow's 1 p.m. conference-championship game against Mount St. Mary's at UMBC Soccer Stadium.
The Mountaineers (11-6-2), who lost, 3-1, to UMBC last Sunday, had no problems in beating disorganized, listless Fairleigh Dickinson, 2-0 yesterday, also at UMBC, with Duncan Gladwin scoring one goal and setting up the other.
UMBC, which looked skittish in its first meeting against the Mount last weekend, was anything but against the Hawks (6-8-4), who needed to win their final five games to make it into the tournament. The Retrievers exhibited intensity often reserved for much better opponents.
"The focus has been on this week the whole year," said UMBC coach Pete Caringi, whose team held Monmouth to five shots on goal. "Last week, we were maybe too excited, but today we took control from the beginning."
With defenders Anthony Francia and Elijah Pereira marking UMBC's main scoring threats, NCAA-goals leader Giuliano Celenza and Ty Engram, Monmouth coach Shannon Poser might have thought he was in decent shape.
He found out early enough that he wasn't. And Celenza (Archbishop Curley) and Engram scored, anyway, seven minutes apart in the second half.
Halter, who had been splitting time with Ryan Cuomo throughout the season, found a crossbar-deflection off a corner kick and deposited it into the goal from about 5 yards, giving the Retrievers the lead in the 13th minute.
In the 25th minute, Halter scored again, heading in a long cross from Matt Joseph (Calvert Hall). Six minutes later, Halter's shot off another corner kick was deflected in by Billy Nelson (Bel Air) to put away the game.
The effort was a nice turnabout for the junior from Ellicott City, who has seen a lot of changes in his life in 1999. After two seasons at Old Dominion, Halter transferred to UMBC in January, in hope of playing with Celenza, Cuomo, Matt Gormley and Louie Karko, all club-ball buddies.
But quadriceps problems dogged him into the season. And in mid-September, his father, Lawrence, was diagnosed with lung cancer and died about a month later.
"He was my biggest fan," Halter said. "My dad and I were really close. I just wish he was here to watch."
In the face of difficulty, the team's strong performance -- No. 19 national ranking and 19-game unbeaten streak -- has helped sustain him. "I've gone through a lot of stuff," he said. "The only thing that's been consistent has been us."
Poser credited UMBC's midfield of Halter, Gormley, Karko, Joseph and James Hamilton as the difference, adding: "We never showed up."
In yesterday's second game, Mount St. Mary's Gladwin scored unassisted in the seventh minute, then assisted Jon Hooker in the game's 21st minute.
The defense did the rest -- with goalkeeper Rob Ray recording three saves -- as the Mountaineers dominated FDU, (10-5-4).
UMBC 5, Monmouth 0
Goals: UMBC--Halter 2, Celenza, Engram, Nelson. Assists: UMBC--Halter 2, Gormley, Joseph, Karko. Saves: M--Zentner 10; UMBC--Rowland 2, Wunk 1. Half: UMBC, 3-0.
Mt. St. Mary's 2, FDU 0
Goals: MSM--Gladwin, Hooker. Assist: MSM--Gladwin. Saves: FDU--Lenkutis 3; MSM--Ray 3. Half: MSM, 2-0.