The Bethesda Excel's dreams of making a third straight national tournament appearance were momentarily delayed when the BOM Lady Stallions (N.J.) scored a last-minute goal to send their US Youth Soccer Region I under-18 championship game into overtime on Tuesday.
But the Bethesda Soccer Club team -- made up of players who have played together for at least four years -- had no intention of seeing its season end at the Virginia Beach tournament. Natasha Mann (Bethesda-Chevy Chase) collected a crossing pass in the goal box, shook off a defender and drilled a shot into the goal -- her third of the game -- from about 10 yards for a 4-3 victory.
The Excel advances to the US Youth Soccer National Championships at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando beginning July 27.
"She shows up in big games and has a resiliency that she wouldn't let us lose," said Bethesda Coach Dave Nolan, who added that in the excitement of the victory he didn't realize Mann had scored a hat trick. "I'll have to go over and give her a big hug the next time I see her."
The Excel is one of three Montgomery County teams to reach the national championships. The Potomac Soccer Club's boys' under-12 Fusion outscored its opponents 23-1 over five games to clinch a berth. The Fusion defeated the Beach FC Fire (Va.), 2-0, on Tuesday.
The PSC Cougars claimed the boys' under-14 region title by knocking off the Rockaway Stingers (N.J.), 2-0, in overtime. The Cougars outscored their competition, 17-3, en route to earning a trip to the national championships.
The MSC Dragons reached the boys' under-15 final before yielding just their second goal of the tournament in a 1-0 loss to the FC Greater Boston Bolts (Mass.).
The Excel, meanwhile, added to an impressive recent history. Nolan took over the team during its under-14 season. Two years ago, Bethesda lost in the under-15 national final in penalty kicks. Last year, the team suffered a rash of injuries that left several of its top players sidelined, but it still reached the championships before losing in group play.
The Excel proved they can win both high-scoring games and defensive grinders in the region tournament. Goalkeeper Julie Kakfa helped hold opponents scoreless entering the region final.
With the bulk of the team healthy and on a roll, Nolan thinks this may be its best shot at winning a national championship.
"I think we can make a genuine run at it," Nolan said. "I don't think people really understand how difficult it is to get there once. To get there twice is an amazing achievement and to get there three times in a row is unheard of."
The American Legion baseball regular season in Montgomery County is headed for a fantastic finish. Five of the county's seven teams are in competition for the four spots in the county postseason tournament -- the winner of which advances to the state tournament.
Entering Tuesday's games, Gaithersburg Post 295 was in first with a 17-1 record, followed by Gaithersburg Post 104 (18-3) and Cissel Saxon Post 41 (15-5). Damascus Post 171 (13-8) and Bethesda Post 105 (9-10) are dueling for the final spot.
The two Gaithersburg teams met last night, but the results were not available when this edition went to press.
Post 104 spent the Fourth of July weekend going 4-1 in a round-robin tournament hosted by Thomas Stone High. They knocked off Muhlenberg (Pa.), La Plata and Chaney; the team's lone loss came against Mount Airy, 5-4. Among the highlights was the performance of first baseman Matt Sweeney (Magruder), who was 6 for 6 during a doubleheader.
Post 104 outfielder P.J. Harbison (Shenandoah University/Wootton) is out for the season after rupturing his spleen during a game at the tournament on Saturday. Harbison collided with a teammate while trying to field a fly ball. Coach Jason Woodward said Harbison left the game but that Harbison believed he had merely bruised some ribs. Harbison returned home, Woodward said, but when the pain did not subside he was taken to a hospital and had surgery performed to stop the bleeding.
Woodward said Harbison is expected to remain in intensive care for the rest of the week but should make a full recovery.