As defending champions, the No. 1 McDonogh girls soccer team dominated the demanding Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference throughout the regular season and continued on with two comfortable playoff wins to reach Sunday's championship game against No. 4 Archbishop Spalding.
Faced with a hint of adversity against the determined Cavaliers with just one half of soccer separating them from a second straight crown, the Eagles showed they could also pull through when things got tough.
Sophomore midfielder Anna Bialczak scored in the game's second minute and then — after some anxious moments with the Cavaliers pressing in the second half — McDonogh got a goal from All-Metro senior forward Taylor Cummings with 4:21 left to secure a 2-0 win in a rematch of last year's final at Gerstell Academy in Finksburg.
The Eagles complete their season with an 18-3 mark, going 11-0 and outscoring league opponents by a whopping 52-2 margin in their run through the playoffs.
"Spalding is always tough and being up 1-0 going into the second half, we knew they were going to come out hard and try to win, so we had to play just as hard if not harder and I think we did a great job," said Cummings, who also scored four goals in the Eagles' 6-1 semifinal win over Notre Dame Prep. "Anna got the winning goal, but just to know our win was a little more secure [after the second goal] felt amazing. It's a great way to end my senior year and I couldn't ask for anything more."
After taking the quick 1-0 lead on Bialczak's goal, the Eagles thoroughly controlled the rest of the first half, but were unable to finish off any other scoring chances to add to the lead.
The Cavaliers (14-6-1) adjusted in the second half, getting to the ball first at midfield and pushing more players forward to create chances, but couldn't break through before Cummings put the game out of reach.
"They were bunkering [in the second half]. I could see it," Spalding coach Bob Dieterle said. "Sometimes it's just not your day where the ball bounces a little that way instead of the other way. We were close and I knew we would be susceptible to a counter and maybe a second goal, but we came to win."
For McDonogh, one of the program's finest senior classes ended their careers with wins. All-Metro Player of the Year Ashley Spivey dominated the middle of the field, senior goalie Morgan Ruhl (three saves) flushed out all of the Cavaliers' chances and Cummings provided the season's last goal.
"It's definitely a great way to end the season," said Spivey, who is set to play at Maryland next year. "We came out really fast and then everybody played hard, communicated well and stayed positive. It's just a great feeling."
(at Gerstell Academy)
1 McDonogh 2, 4 Spalding 0
Goals: M – Bialczak, Cummings
Assists: M – Pearson.
Saves: S – Babin 5; M – Ruhl 3.
Half: M, 1-0.