It's a good thing for Jim McEvoy that his Quince Orchard boys' soccer team really doesn't understand how the Maryland playoffs are assembled. The state unknowingly inspired the Cougars with an underdog label by randomly giving them the 10th seed in the ultra-competitive 4A West Region.
"I told them they could've as easily been a five seed," McEvoy said, "but they didn't really understand it."
There was no misunderstanding, though, the magnitude of the Cougars' 1-0 upset of region No. 2 seed Wootton on Tuesday night. In spite of a 5-5-3 regular season record, Quince Orchard has positioned itself as yet another formidable Montgomery County challenger for the state championship.
"We know our record doesn't look the best, but it was a confidence thing," said McEvoy, whose team has won two playoff matches behind a pair of goals from sophomore Israel Sesay, a member of the U.S. under-15 national team pool. "Once we got the results, they started to get satisfied with themselves. When you get through a stretch like we did, you really get a lot of confidence."
Several county coaches said the preseason estimate of eight or nine teams capable of winning a state title might have been too conservative. In addition to Quince Orchard's surprise, 11th-seeded Magruder defeated third-seed Walter Johnson, 3-1, on penalty kicks, thanks to three spectacular saves by senior goalkeeper Freddy Merkel.
Magruder and Quince Orchard will play in the first of the region's two semifinals tomorrow at 5 p.m. at Whitman. Top-seeded Watkins Mill and fourth-seeded Churchill advanced to the second semifinal with one-goal victories on Tuesday, as well. Watkins Mill is seeking its first regional title; no Montgomery County program has won more than Churchill's 13.
"You could really make a case for every one of the 4A West teams left to win the state championship," Magruder Coach Scott Alexander said. "In fact, all four of the teams that lost [Tuesday] night could have made a stab at the championship, too."
Several other seeds failed to hold in other regions. In the 3A West, the top two seeds -- Bethesda-Chevy Chase and North Carroll -- fell, respectively, to Paint Branch and Kennedy. Paint Branch lost its last 10 regular season matches, and Kennedy needs one more playoff victory to match its regular season total (three).
Thomas Johnson had its 30-match winning streak over Frederick County opponents end and struggled to a 7-5-1 record during the regular season. But junior Henry Hernandez's tiebreaking goal late in the first half sent Thomas Johnson to a 2-1 victory over top-seeded Perry Hall in the 4A North Region.
Looming, perhaps, for the Patriots in the bottom half of that bracket is the best reason to ignore seeding -- Sherwood, which won last year's 4A title despite being the fourth seed in the 4A West. In the region semifinals, Sherwood will host C.M. Wright, which defeated second-seed Woodlawn, and Thomas Johnson will visit Springbrook.