By Billy Owens
Catonsville, Md. - The Knights' 2018 season ended in heartbreaking fashion following a 5-1 loss to the Montgomery Raptors in the semifinal round of the 2018 NJCAA Region XX Division I Women's Soccer Tournament at CCBC Catonsville Thursday night.
Leading 1-0 for the first 65 minutes of play, No. 3-seeded Essex (7-9-1) kept No. 2 seed Montgomery (12-2, 7-1 Maryland Juco) and its typically high-scoring offense off the scoreboard for much of the match.
Once the Knights surrendered an own goal midway through the second half, the floodgates opened for the Raptors, who were riding an 11-game winning streak and had averaged 7.29 goals per game through the regular season.
"We tried something we've never done before and it paid off for about 70 minutes, and then we let up a goal and that was it," interim head coach Joe Fiedler said. "But the girls played wonderfully, the girls played really well."
Essex stunned Montgomery off the initial draw to jump in front 1-0 after freshman forward Mikayla Boyle (Eastern Tech) scored an unassisted goal in the first minute of play.
The Raptors' offense struggled to land shots on goal for much of the first half. Freshman goalkeeper Peyton Apruzzese (Severna Park) only needed to make two saves on the Raptors' seven shots during the first 45 minutes of play.
Essex's offense had similar trouble after its early go-ahead goal, only putting two shots on goal out of five in the first half.
Boyle nearly had her second goal of the game in the 41st minute as sophomore goalkeeper Delmy Perez came off her line and was out of the goal, but Boyle's shot ricocheted off the goal post and went out of bounds for a goal kick.
The Knights went into the second half with a lot of belief, having successfully shut out the region's highest-scoring team to that point. They started the second half with another quick strike by Boyle in the 46th minute, but her shot went wide of the goal.
Montgomery's offense stayed persistent, earning a corner kick in the 52nd minute and taking three shots between the 58th and 65th minutes. A bad clear attempt following a Montgomery free kick led to Essex giving up an own goal, tying the game at 1-1 in the 66th minute.
With her team finally on the board, sophomore midfielder Arielle Amaguana spearheaded an aggressive Raptors offensive attack that wore down the Knights' midfield and defensive lines and kept the Knights' offense without another shot attempt until the 88th minute of play.
"They were a lot quicker than us, so we needed to box that in, and that's what we wanted to do was box that in," Fiedler said. "It worked for a long time, and we just let up a bad goal and things happened."
Amaguana scored a hat trick of unassisted goals that came in the 71st, 83rd and 90th minutes, while freshman midfielder Elise Couturier scored her own unassisted goal in the 87th minute.
"It was a good season," Fiedler said. "The girls really taught me a lot about everything and I really enjoyed it."
Madison D'Amico (Perry Hall) and Bailey D'Amico (Perry Hall) earned Region XX All-Tournament Team honors.
Boyle led the team with 14 goals this season, ranking tied for 6th in the Maryland Juco Conference and 5th in Region XX Division I. She was also second on the team with six assists and had a team-leading 34 points.
Bailey D'Amico was second on the team in goals (10) and led in assists with eight. She finished with 28 points.