MIDDLETOWN — Middletown typically fields one of Frederick County’s strongest boys lacrosse teams.
But as good as they’ve been, the Knights had never landed a spot in the Central Maryland Conference championship game since its inception in 2016.
So, with an opportunity to finally punch their ticket to the CMC title game by winning Friday against Smithsburg, the Knights didn’t hold anything back.
Their defense limited the Leopards to one goal during a stretch that lasted over 30 minutes. They consistently gained possession thanks to Roland Hockenbery’s ability to win faceoffs. And their offense moved the ball fluidly and found all sorts of ways to score, including on a pair of no-look shots from Luke Hallman and a trick play.
The Knights rolled to a 17-5 win over visiting Smithsburg, clinching the CMC Gambrill Division title and earning a trip to the conference championship game.
“It’s awesome,” Hallman said. “We haven’t been there, I don’t think, ever before, so it’s a great opportunity for us.”
Middletown will face Urbana, the CMC Spires champ, in the championship game on May 4 at Hood College.
Such a possibility seemed remote after the Knights lost a division game to Oakdale earlier this season. But the Bears fell behind the Knights in the Gambrill standings, and Middletown (5-1 in the division) took the title by handing Smithsburg (5-1) its first loss in the Gambrill.
“We felt really lucky to have a chance to get back in the race,” Knights coach Ty Crompton said. “So, this did mean a lot to them.”
Given the stakes, there was no danger of Middletown letting up after it erased an early 2-0 deficit and took an 8-3 lead into the third quarter.
“Some days, we’ve taken the foot off the pedal,” Hallman said. “But we knew this game mattered a lot to us, and we just needed to put the ball in the back of the net, and the defense played amazing.”
Middletown goalie Ben Boykin had a lot to do with that, finishing with 12 saves, including several on dangerous shots when the game was still tight in the first quarter.
“He played out of his mind,” Hallman said.
The goalie was quick to credit his defense. After Smithsburg scored two early goals, it got just one more from the 6:22 mark of the first quarter until early in the fourth.
“They were communicating, they were sliding well, getting out on their hands when they passed,” Boykin said of his defenders.
Crompton rattled off some names of defenders his team has depended on, including Dillon Dierman, who has a knack for takeaways, stalwart Conor Faron, versatile senior Brady Rosner and varsity newcomer Joey Whipp, who excels in transition.
Smithsburg’s offensive chances were also limited by Hockenbery, who dominated in the faceoff circle to gain possession and set the stage for Middletown’s attack, which he sometimes finished.
Right after teammate Colten McCracken bounced in a goal, Hockenbery won another faceoff, sprinted down the field and scored to give the Knights a 14-3 lead with one second left in the third quarter.
That quarter also featured a trick play by the Knights, who made it look like someone other than Connor Boyll had the ball, even though he did have it. Boyll promptly fired in a goal.
Also in the third, Hallman scored his second no-look goal of the night, firing a shot over his shoulder while he had his back to the net.
“Those are goals [you’re like] ‘No, no ... oh yeah,’” Crompton said. “But he’s versatile, can shoot the ball from anywhere and absorbs a ton of punishment to get his hands free.”
But like Hallman himself said, Crompton pointed out how Middletown’s offensive success has hinged on passing.
“We’re really starting to move the ball around,” Crompton said. “That’s kind of where we’re exploding.”
Hallman and Hockenbery each had four goals and one assist for the Knights (8-4 overall). McCracken had three goals and one assist, and Nicholas Weldon had two goals and one assist.