by Nelson Coffin
It was a lock-down day for Marriotts Ridge’s defense — and a frustrating one for Hereford’s offense — in the Class 2A boys lacrosse state championship game at Stevenson University’s Mustang Stadium on Wednesday afternoon.
When it had possession, Marriotts Ridge’s methodical tempo kept the Bulls out of sync for much of the game.
All in all, the game plan implemented by Marriotts Ridge coach Tony Incontrera and his staff worked to near perfection against the program owning the most state crowns.
“The game plan defensively was to not let No. 5 (Nozemack) get the ball,” Incontrera said. “I don’t have the exact numbers, but it seemed like he’s involved with 90 percent of their goals.”
J.D. Nozemack had two goals for the Baltimore County champion Bulls. Grafton Griffey, Will Reott, Troy Tuveson and sophomore midfielder Cole Gibbons each tallied.
Things started well in the contest for the Bulls, who scored in the first minute when Gibbons converted a feed from freshman attackman Jake Furman, although the lead was short-lived after Gladstone and Frank answered to give the Mustangs a 2-1 advantage heading into the second quarter.
Nozemack, a senior attack boasting 60 goals and 62 assists before the final four, tied it early in the second frame before Geier, a senior attack, scooped up a loose ball off a scramble and deposited a shot over the right shoulder of Hereford senior goalie John Talbot to inch the Mustangs back into the lead.
With less than two minutes remaining in the first half, as Marriotts Ridge sophomore defender Patrick Greene shut off Nozemack, Griffey took advantage of a five-on-five alignment to re-dodge along goal-line extended and then propel a high-to-high shot past Mustang netminder Colin Kelley to produce the game’s third tie.
Gladstone’s second goal, however, snapped the deadlock early in the third quarter and the Mustangs moved even further forward on Frank’s second tally less than a minute later to build a 5-3 advantage.
Senior midfielder Troy Hettinger’s goal made it 6-3 with just under four minutes left in the period while the Bulls’ offense stalled under immense pressure from Greene and fellow longsticks, junior Ricky Fedorchak and sophomore Andrew Page.
Nozemack said that the going was tough with Greene shadowing him.
“They were able to lock me off,” Nozemack said. “I just wasn’t able to get the ball.”
Even so, Hereford coach Sal Picataggi said that his team has seen the shut-off plenty of time before.
A lot of teams try it against us, but most are unsuccessful,” he said.
That said, Hereford was blanked for the entire third quarter and suffered a 20-minute scoring drought while Geier and Gladstone scored again to give Mustangs’ enough of a cushion during the pivotal 5-0 run to prevail after three straight years of falling in the sectional finals.
Hereford still found a way to make things interesting down the stretch by scoring three times in the final six minutes on goals by Nozemack and senior defenders Tuveson and Reott to pull within 8-6.
“We felt like in that 5-0 run, the field tipped against us,” Picataggi said. “But there was zero panic.”
With the way the defense was playing in front of Kelley, through, the bulge was more than enough to secure Marriotts Ridge’s first state title. The Mustangs are the fifth Howard County program (Centennial, Glenelg, Howard and Mount Hebron) to claim a state title, and first since Howard (4A) in 2015.
“Very few teams get to finish the season with a win,” Incontrera said. “We did a good job today of slowing the pace. We have really smart players. We wanted to wear Hereford down while looking for really good shots. It’s not like we wouldn’t go to the goal.”
“It’s truly miraculous,” Hettinger said. “I can’t put it into words.”
CLASS 2A BOYS STATE LACROSSE CHAMPIONSHIP