At Thursday's practice, Gilman boys soccer coach Jon Seal challenged senior forward Cotter Brown to be the difference in the No. 3 Greyhounds' important season finale at No. 1 Loyola on Friday.
Brown, a team captain, responded impressively.
The four-year starter set the tone with two first-half goals, leading the Greyhounds to a 3-0 win over the Dons that assures the defending Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference champions the second seed and a bye in the opening round of next week's playoffs.
Winners of seven straight, Gilman ends the regular season with a 17-3-1 mark (11-2-1 in league play) and will open the playoffs at home in the semifinal round on Thursday. McDonogh (16-2-1) earned the top seed with the same 11-2-1 mark because it had a win and tie against the Greyhounds.
Loyola (11-4-3) finishes 9-3-2 in league play to claim the fourth seed and a home game against Mount St. Joseph in Tuesday's opening round. (The Dons tied Mount St. Joseph twice in the regular season — 3-3 at Loyola in the first meeting and 2-2 later on the road.)
From the start of Friday's game, Gilman played with greater pace and purpose than host Loyola.
Brown, who scored the goal in Gilman's 1-0 win over McDonogh in last year's championship game, ignited his team, slipping behind the defense for a breakaway goal and then heading home a corner kick from Tanner Vosvick for a 2-0 advantage in the first 20 minutes. The Greyhounds stayed in control the rest of the way.
"Coach did challenge me at [Thursday's] practice — he said I needed to step up, it's my game," Brown said. "I tried to show him what I could do and luckily good things happened."
Brown's strong game didn't surprise Seal.
"He responded like I hoped he would," Seal said. "He's such a great kid, works so hard, does things the right way, and I'm glad to see he was rewarded for it today."
Gilman goalie Andrew Harris needed to make only four saves to preserve the shutout. In the second half, junior midfielder Anthony Kim made it 3-0 with a right-footed shot 25 yards out from the right side that found the upper far post.
The loss for Loyola ends a four-game win streak that included an impressive 4-0 win over McDonogh last Friday.
No. 3 Gilman 3, No. 1 Loyola 0
Goals: G – Bron 2, Kim.
Assists: G – Vosvick, DeSmit.
Saves: G – Harris 4; L – Hanke 7.
Half: G, 2-0.