GAITHERSBURG – For the past two seasons, Winston Churchill High School and Severna Park High School have played instant classics in the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) 4A state finals.
In both games, the Bulldogs had the lead in the fourth quarter before the Falcons tied the game and won in overtime. Both games denied Churchill the chance to become the first team from Montgomery County to win a state title.
When the two teams met again on May 18 at Gaithersburg High School, Severna Park made sure it would not be another game that went down to the wire.
The Falcons jumped on the Bulldogs early, scoring the first six goals before rolling to a 12-4 win in the state semifinals. Severna Park (18-1) will be looking for its fourth straight state championship on May 22 when it takes on Howard at Paint Branch High School.
“We’re a young team this year,” Churchill Head Coach Jeff Fritz said. “We graduated a lot of guys last year, and we were just hoping to keep the game close and find a way to win in the fourth quarter. But they were the better team today; we knew that coming in. We tried to do some different things, but just fell a little short today.”
While the Bulldogs (11-6) entered last year’s game with a 17-1 record, this season’s team had a bumpier road to its fifth straight regional championship. Churchill lost three games this season to Montgomery County Public Schools foes, as many as they had lost in the previous five seasons.
It was still enough for the Bulldogs to be the top seed in their 4A West section. After rolling through Walter Johnson and Bethesda-Chevy Chase in the opening playoff rounds, Churchill claimed the regional title after winning at Richard Montgomery in overtime, avenging an early- season loss.
Effects from the overtime affair showed early, as the Falcons outplayed Churchill all over the field. After Kyle Griffith’s goal was waved off, the Bulldogs failed to clear. Severna Park got the ball back, and Connor Panebianco found James Maher cutting off a pick to open the scoring. The Falcons exploited one-on-one matchups against the Bulldogs’ man-to-man defense, getting their first six goals from five different players.
“They don’t have the one player that can just beat us,” Churchill goalie Andrew Robinson said. “They have five, six, seven players that are really smart, great stick skills, great shooters. We couldn’t just lock off one guy.”
When the Bulldogs finally did get the ball into the offensive zone, it was hard for them to get many clean looks. Severna Park didn’t allow Churchill’s attack to set up from behind the cage, forcing them to push out and run the offense from the midfield.
There were no clear dodging lanes from the midfield, either, and the Bulldogs struggled to score all afternoon. They failed to get on the scoreboard until a man-up goal from freshman Gavin Gumucio with 1:26 remaining in the second quarter. Even when they did get a clean look, Falcons goalie Casey Fox was usually there to stop it, making one of his 10 saves.
“We had some early opportunities, didn’t take shots when we had them and then we did have some shots we didn’t finish like we should have,” Fritz said. “We were kind of happy throwing it (to) towards the goal and not really trying to score and be a threat.”
When things did go well for Churchill, it didn’t last very long. Following Gumucio’s goal, Severna Park’s Colin Shadowens scooped up the face-off and sprinted downfield. The midfielder passed to Maher and found Virginia commit Michael Harmeyer for his third goal of the game and a 7-1 lead. The junior scored the overtime game-winner in last year’s state finals, and this time, was a handful for Churchill all afternoon. He scored a game-high five goals to run his season total to 95.
“We just have such a great chemistry together,” Harmeyer said. “We just ran our basic offense and it clicked really well today.”
Gumucio added his second goal of the game with 7.8 seconds left in the second quarter to trim the lead, but Severna Park made sure it would not get any closer.
Panebianco scored his second goal of the game with 10:53 remaining in the third quarter. It was followed by Harmeyer’s play of the game a few minutes later, dodging and scoring from behind the goal after making his defender fall from the turf.
Despite nine second-half saves and 13 overall from senior goalie Andrew Robinson, the Bulldogs did not make enough plays or have enough time to pull off the comeback.
“I just think we played our hearts out,” senior attackman Andrew Shure said. “They were better than us, and we just showed them all that we had.”