When asked about John Milani’s performance Thursday, Glenelg High boys’ lacrosse coach Josh Hatmaker couldn’t help but smile.

“He’s a tough little boogar,” said Hatmaker.

Sitting on the Gladiators’ bench several feet away, Milani sat with a bag of ice on his knee. Milani and No. 12 Glenelg left visiting Centennial battered and bruised in a 12-5 decision in a Howard County league contest.

Milani had a game-high six goals for Glenelg, and junior Nick Wynne added two goals and two assists. Freshman attack Mikey Wynne finished with two goals and an assist.

The Gladiators (7-1 overall, 7-0 Howard) scored the game’s first nine goals, putting a virtual stranglehold on another league title. Barring an epic collapse over its final four league games, Glenelg will return to the District V finals against Anne Arundel County’s best early next month.

Thursday’s dominance was the Gladiators’ latest against a league title contender. In three games (vs. Mount Hebron, Marriotts Ridge and Centennial), Glenelg has won by an average margin of more than eight goals.

“We have some very talented kids and I knew that coming in, but young, how you harness that and direct it is one thing,” said Hatmaker. “I’m surprised they’ve gel that quickly, but I’m not surprised with the level of play.”

“We thought we’d be pretty good team this year,” said Milani. “It’s pretty good to jump out on teams   and kind of make a name for ourselves.”

Milani did just that Thursday, scoring a hat trick in third quarter as Glenelg led 12-1 entering the final quarter. The Gladiators were lethal in transition, scoring five goals, and often ran their offensive sets to near perfection.

“He’s [Milani] the dirty work guy,” said Hatmaker. “He’s going to get his name in the paper a lot, but what people don’t realized he’s cutting in the middle, working the inside and getting the crap kick out of him.”

john milaniNick Wynne started it with an unassisted goal, then found a cutting Mark Darden for a 2-0 advantage. The Gladiators emerged from a groundball battle and Anthony Pagnotta found Milani for his first score.

Set up by groundball wins by Brendan McMahon and Christian Salandra, Milani added two more transition tallies. Nick Wynne whipped a laser past Eagle goalie Ben Camby, extending the lead to 9-0 with 62 seconds left in the opening half.

Glenelg’s defense, featuring Eric Sweetman in goal, tenaciously squeezed Centennial’s offense. Ted Sylvia’s score with just 1.3 seconds remaining in the second was the Eagles’ only tally until the fourth with the outcome long decided.

“The first half was a wakeup call, you can’t make the mistakes against a team of that caliber,” said Centennial coach Ken Senisi, whose team fell to 6-2 overall, 5-2 in Howard. “They do a good job with the 50-50 balls, transition and moving the ball. We got caught out of place quite a few times.”

Glenelg next plays at the Gerry Case Tournament at Broadneck next weekend. The Gladiators will take on Wootton from Montgomery County, which reached the Class 4A/3A state finals last spring, in the opening round.

“We need to finish a game all four quarters,” said Milani, whose team lost in the 2A/1A state title game last year. “We let up a little bit in the fourth quarter and in a close game that can cost us. We got to finish the entire game.”