Most observers expected the Maryland 2A boys' soccer final to be a defensive contest. It didn't disappoint, going into the final minutes scoreless before a millisecond of miscommunication and a fateful ricochet gave Liberty a 1-0 victory over Hammond at UMBC on Saturday.
With 4 minutes 12 seconds remaining, Liberty sophomore Tony Lee's 10-yard blast bounced off the post, caromed off Hammond defender Patrick Preziotti and trickled across the goal line. Lee's second career goal sealed the game, as Hammond was unable to mount any threats thereafter and was denied its first state crown.
"One minuscule lapse, ballgame over," Hammond Coach Rick Bantz said. "The boys played well, they played hard. I have nothing to complain about."
Few expected a shootout; Hammond (12-3-5) had scored 31 goals entering the state tournament, while first-time state champion Liberty (16-0-3) had allowed eight. The difference would be Hammond's ability to keep Liberty from connecting on long balls to the outside.
The Golden Bears did so successfully, but never mounted much of an offensive attack, managing six shots against the Lions' sturdy defense. The match appeared destined for overtime until Lee collected a corner kick from teammate Andrew Cherenzia and banked it off the post, off Preziotti's side and into the goal.
"I thought it was coming back out," Lee said.
"It rattled around," Hammond senior Jose Maldonado said, "and unfortunately it went in."
Bantz and his players said there was a bit off miscommunication about who was to mark the post. By the time Preziotti slid over, he wasn't able to get his entire body against the goal post.
"The goal was just one of those mishaps that happens. Other than that, I can't honestly say we were significantly beaten," said Hammond junior Mostafa Ebrahimnejad, the team's leading scorer.
It was the first state tournament appearance for Hammond, which had won seven in a row and 10 of 11. The Golden Bears will graduate only four seniors, giving them reason to hope for a return trip next year.
Plus, said Maldonado, "We're very happy to have made it this far. No Hammond team had ever made it this far. We did what we could."