The Archbishop Spalding girls soccer team started the season with an inexperienced defense that dealt with the question of just how quickly it could come together.
These days, there are no doubts.
For 80 minutes in Thursday's Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference semifinal against visiting John Carroll, Spalding's defense was organized, sturdy and made no space available. It was the key component as the No. 4 Cavaliers beat the No. 2 Patriots, 2-0, to advance to their fourth straight conference championship game.
Spalding (14-5-1) will face defending champion and No. 1 McDonogh — a 6-1 winner over Notre Dame Prep in Thursday's other semifinal — at 1:30 p.m. Sunday at Gerstell Academy in Finksburg. The Cavaliers will look to capture their fourth championship in six years.
After a scoreless first half Thursday, Laikyn Duffey provided all the offense the Cavaliers would need in the 44th minute when she finished off a chance in front coming off a short cross sent in by Margaret Quinn. Mo Ostrowski added to the lead with her 12 goal of the season.
The defense — with Sammie Kirk and Rachael Griffith in the middle, flanked by Sarah Lloyd and Jocelyn Wagner — took care of the rest, with goalie Cassidy Babin making three saves. It was the Cavaliers' 12th shutout of the season and the second time they blanked John Carroll.
"When we first started, everybody thought the defense was going to be lacking," Kirk said. "But coming in, we knew we would build up each game and get better and better. Now, we just click. We just all love each other, know what we're doing, and we connect really well."
Next up is McDonogh, which took the regular-season meeting 2-0 on Sept. 19 and also ended the Cavaliers' run of two straight titles last year with a win in overtime.
"We can't wait to play McDonogh — they're our rivals and we just want to go and win," Kirk said. "It's going to take heart. We're just going to show up, play our best and do what we do."
John Carroll, which got strong efforts from midfielder Leah Pace and defender Erica Bodt, finished its season 14-3-1.
McDonogh (17-3) got four goals from Taylor Cummings — including three in the first half — to get past the Blazers in the other semifinal.
IAAM A Conference semifinals
No. 4 Spalding 2, No. 2 John Carroll 0
Goals: S – Duffey, Ostrowski.
Saves: JC – Maiorana 4; S – Babin 3.