Chopticon boys' soccer coach John Settle said there is something about the regional playoffs that brings the best out in the Braves.

After posting a 3-9-1 regular season record, the second-worst record in the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference, the Braves notched two straight playoff wins against Huntingtown and third-seeded Lackey in the Maryland 3A South Region tournament.

Chopticon junior midfielder Ray Dixon scored the lone goal in a 1-0 victory over Lackey on Monday. Dixon's goal came in the 60th minute of the regional quarterfinal and set up Friday's semifinal against Severna Park.

"I think that we have thick skin after some tough losses this season; the kids aren't afraid to be in a bad position," said Settle, who pointed to a painful 3-1 loss to Huntingtown in the regular season. "We just held on for life after that goal [against Lackey], and our whole team played defense; but Lackey definitely had opportunities to score."

Led by senior sweeper Ryan Colomo, backs Nick Bauer (a sophomore) and Zach Graves (a junior), and freshman Andy Gainey, Lackey did its best to protect senior goalkeeper Gene VanMeter from the Chargers' potent scoring attack. Lackey hit the post twice in the second half and outshot the Indians 20-4 for the game.

Inspiring Words

After Annapolis took a 2-1 lead against Westlake before halftime of Monday's 3A South boys' soccer quarterfinal, Wolverines Coach Armand Delacruz decided to give his team what he called a spirited pep talk.

Junior striker Konrad Hutt certainly seemed to have received the message, completing his third hat trick of the season in the second half and leading Westlake to a 4-3 victory. The fourth-seeded Wolverines were scheduled to play top seed Northern on Friday night.

Westlake scored three goals in the first 10 minutes of the second half thanks in large part to Hutt (19 goals, 12 assists this season), who finished the scoring with a 30-yard direct kick.

"Konrad is really a joy to watch because he is so smooth with the ball and he can go left or right," Delacruz said. "But I'm going to tell my kids not to go down again, because I'm going to have to start looking up quotations for my inspirational speeches."

Close Games the Norm

In the first two rounds of the girls' soccer regional playoffs, SMAC teams have been involved in some of the most closely contested games.

Three games were decided by penalty kicks and in three others, the winning team won by a single goal. One of the more improbable games to come down to the wire was the 3A South quarterfinal match between McDonough and Westlake, won by the Wolverines, 1-0.

During the regular season, the Rams suffered a 5-0 loss to Westlake, so they planned to completely alter their style for the playoff meeting. McDonough (2-11-1) collapsed into a defensive posture, frustrating the Wolverines (11-3).

"McDonough played a smart game," Westlake Coach Will Morris said.

Westlake was scheduled to play Severna Park in the semifinals yesterday, after the deadline for this edition. Severna Park defeated Westlake, 3-0, in the playoffs last season.

Against McDonough, Westlake developed a plethora of chances, but the Rams' defensive pressure forced many shots wide of the mark and helped turn several counterattacks. Finally, with under a minute to play in regulation, Westlake midfielder Thuy Le beat three defenders on the left side and sent a pass across the goal. It was booted into the net by forward Lauren Russell.

"We missed a clearance attempt, and Westlake was able to put the ball in the net; they took an excellent shot," said Ruben Casas, the Rams' first-year coach. "I thought we might have carried this game into overtime and gotten it to [penalty kicks], but I knew whoever made the first mistake would probably lose the game."