By Billy Owens
Catonsville, Md. - For the third time in their last four regional tournament matches, the Knights prevailed 4-2 in a do-or-die penalty shootout against Frederick Community College Wednesday night at CCBC Catonsville after remaining tied at one through regulation and two overtimes to advance to their seventh consecutive 2018 NJCAA Region XX Division I Tournament final.
Coming into the tournament seeded No. 3, Essex (12-5-2) fell 3-2 to eventual No. 2 seed Frederick (11-1-1) in their Sept. 4 matchup at CCBC Essex Stadium. The two teams also faced off in last year's Region XX Tournament final, with Essex taking the penalty shootout 5-3 to claim its sixth consecutive regional championship.
"They're really good," head coach Joe Fiedler said of Frederick. "They are fast, they do a lot of really good things, [and] we knew it was going to be a tough game. We're just glad that we got through."
The Knights got off the blocks quickly to start this year's semifinal, as freshman forward Isaiah Price (Bowie) landed a shot on goal 31 seconds into play only to be denied by the Cougars' freshman goalkeeper Ismael Hernandez.
Two Essex corner kicks followed in the seventh and eighth minutes of play, but the Frederick defense was able to clear both out and keep Essex out of goal-scoring area. Essex's next two shots on goal, which would be its last until the second half, came in the 17th and 19th minutes.
The Cougars rattled off four shots on goal in the last 25 minutes of the first half, with all four saved by sophomore goalkeeper Kyle Cooper (Calvert Hall). Both teams entered halftime scoreless.
Frederick carried some of their first-half offensive momentum into the early stages of the second, earning two corner kicks and a free kick just outside the box all within the first four minutes. Cooper would end up making a save on the free kick in the 49th minute.
The Knights eventually got on the board in the 58th minute after freshman defender Hamza Iguidre (Dundalk) scored his first goal of the season, off an assist by freshman midfielder Jonatan Gonzalez (Gar-Field Senior).
Two more Frederick corner kicks followed within the next five minutes, leading to Frederick's equalizing goal in the 63rd minute by freshman midfielder Jonatan Andrade and assisted by freshman midfielder Carlos Guevera.
Despite landing six of their seven second-half shots on goal, the Knights couldn't get a second goal past Hernandez, and time expired in regulation with both teams locked at 1-1.
Both teams combined for seven shots over the first ten-minute overtime period, with all three of Essex's on goal. Cooper made an incredible diving save on a shot by freshman forward Vagner Marques-Rodriguez in the 98th minute to preserve the tie.
The second overtime period only saw three shots total by both teams. Sophomore forward Nehemiah Crawford (Baltimore City College), who finished the game with five shots on goal, was held scoreless for the second straight game, but would be up first for the Knights in the penalty shootout.
All four Essex players — Crawford, sophomore defender Walter Avila (Bladensburg), Gonzalez, and freshman forward Oscar Cruz-Osorio (Indian River) — buried their penalty kicks to put Essex up 4-2 heading into the eighth round.
Andrade would be unsuccessful on his penalty kick, knocking the Cougars out of the regional tournament and giving the Knights a chance to play for its seventh Region XX title in as many years.
"Concentration, just total concentration," Fiedler said. "We've been working on it all year and we've been hoping to peak at the right time, and we have."
Essex will take on No. 1 seed and 2018 Maryland Juco champion Montgomery College in the Region XX Tournament final Saturday.
Similar to their Sept. 4 loss to the Cougars, the Knights fell to the Raptors 4-2 on Sept. 19 after holding a 2-0 halftime lead.
Saturday's final is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. at CCBC Catonsville.