After playing most of the season at midfield or in back, Gilman's Sam Wancowicz asked whether he could move up to forward with his team down a goal in the second half of Thursday's Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference semifinal against No. 1 Archbishop Curley.
Gilman coach Jon Seal, not liking what he saw from his No. 5 Greyhounds in the opening minutes of the half and also taking note of some dangerous runs Wancowicz made earlier in the game, gave his standout junior the thumbs up.
Wancowicz took over from there. After assisting on Riley DeSmit's rocket shot that tied the game in the 54th minute, Wancowicz scored the game-winner three minutes later as the Greyhounds upset the Friars, 2-1, at CCBC-Essex. For the third straight year, Gilman (14-4-4) reaches the MIAA title game, where it will take on No. 2 Loyola, a 2-0 winner over Calvert Hall in Thursday's other semifinal, at 5:30 p.m. Sunday at Stevenson in Owings Mills.
Wancowicz had a sense he could to something special, and Seal trusted his player to make the game's most important adjustment.
"When I was running out of the back, I was getting forward pretty well and creating some chances, so I knew if I got put up top I could take advantage," Wancowicz said. "It ended up pretty well."
The deciding goal was started by what the Greyhounds rely on to win games: hard work.
Junior Peter Brown, one of the smallest players on the field, won a 50-50 ball at midfield that eventually found its way to Wancowicz down the right side. He flicked it past a defender, took a touch that gave him a tough angle in deep and got off a low, heavy shot that slipped under Curley goalie Jake Ossie.
"Sam's a great player, but what makes him special is his heart and his team attitude," Seal said. "It was just an unbelievable effort from everybody,"
After having the 1-0 lead on a goal by Eric Spalt in the 27th minute and then suddenly trailing, the Friars (14-3-4) pressed for the equalizer in the final 24 minutes.
Senior midfielder Michael Sauers, strong throughout the game, had a free kick from the right edge of the penalty area that Gilman goalie Chase Wittich was just able to tip over the crossbar with 22 minutes left. Two minutes later, Sauers placed a corner kick to the far post, but Cameron Wilson's header was just wide. Wancowicz made an impact at the defensive end as well, clearing a number of balls sent in to help secure the win.
After the game, Curley coach Barry Stitz, in his 13th year, made sure to console and provide positive words to each of his seniors.
"It's a special group the way they bonded, and they really made it enjoyable to be around them every day," Stitz said. "By far, they weren't the most talented team that we've had over here in my time, but they had a lot of heart, consistently did it all year, and that's why we were where we were in this position today."
No. 2 Loyola 2, No. 7 Calvert Hall 0: One lightning-fast turn-and-tap sequence by striker Jeremy DeGraffenreidt, followed quickly by another, ended with the goal that pushed the Dons past the Cardinals in the other A Conference semifinal Thursday afternoon in Towson.
The Louisville-bound senior collected a pass just outside the Cardinals' 18-yard line, tipped it over a defender's head and quickly repeated the move when another defender arrived.
Once free, DeGraffenreidt settled the ball and slotted it past Calvert Hall junior keeper Matt Brashears for his 15th goal of the season and a 1-0 lead with 13:12 remaining in the first half.
Gavin Barger's penalty kick midway through the second half sealed the 2-0 victory and sent the second-seeded Dons (15-3) in search of their first title since 2005 when they meet Gilman in the conference final at 5:30 p.m. Sunday at Stevenson
DeGraffenreidt said his scoring move can't be scripted.
"My defender committed, and I tapped it over his head," DeGraffenreidt said. "Then another guy committed, and I did it again. I practice my juggling, but it's just something that happens in the flow of the game."
DeGraffenreidt said he missed a shot earlier in the game and wanted to make amends.
Regardless of whether he scored, the Loyola star — who coach Lee Tschantret said is the best offensive player in the league — constantly drew attention from a defense that did well to limit Loyola to two goals.
To that end, the Cardinals (9-11) turned away what looked like a sure goal in the 36th minute when Brashears was off his line making a save and junior Joshua Bender covered for his goalie by making a kick save.
"We had some chances early," Calvert Hall coach Rich Zinkand said. "But in big games like this, you have to put those away. If you don't, then you're going uphill, and when you're on the road, it makes it even tougher."
He added that losing three times this season to the Dons was no accident.
"They usually space us out a little more than we're used to," Zinkand said. "And then when they get the ball to the end lines, they are very dangerous."
— Nelson Coffin
MIAA A Conference semifinals
5 Gilman 2, 1 Curley 1
Goals: G – DeSmith, S. Wancowicz; C – Spalt. Assists: G – S. Wancowicz
Saves: G – Wittich 5; C – Ossie 6. Half: C, 1-0.
2 Loyola 2, 7 Calvert Hall 0
Goals: L — DeGraffenreidt, Barger. Assists: — none.
Saves: CH — Brashears 6; L — Girken 2. Half: L, 1-0.