The players and coaches for No. 5 Calvert Hall said there was a "championship atmosphere" in the locker room prior to Tuesday's regular season final against No. 7 Loyola.
Indeed, the stakes were high as the winner of the game was assured a spot in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A conference playoffs and the loser was eliminated.
The Cardinals responded by playing one of their most complete games of the season, pulling out a 6-3 victory in front of a near-capacity crowd at Paul Angelo Russo Stadium. Calvert Hall will play at No. 6 Gilman in the conference quarterfinals on Friday.
"I have so much respect for Loyola," Calvert Hall coach Bryan Kelly said. "They're a great team and a great organization. For us to pull it out, it really was a great win. We knew if we lose we go home, and if we win we're in. It was fun."
Ethan Mintzer led Calvert Hall with two goals. Ryan Powers won 11 of 12 faceoffs and also scored a big goal for the Cardinals (13-5 overall, 5-4 league). Calvert Hall goalie Joe McSorley finished with 10 saves,
Jack Lombardo had a goal and an assist for Loyola (8-8, 4-5), while Acie Newton made 12 saves.
With so much on the line, both teams played conservatively in the early part of the game. Neither wanted to suffer a densive breakdown and fall behind.
Loyola held the lead 1-0 at the end of the first quarter when Steve Jones took a pass from Lombardo just in front of the crease and scored with 4:16 remaining. The Cardinals got better looks at the goal in the second quarter but Newton came up big with several stops.
Calvert Hall, however, kept aggressively shooting and they finally broke through midway through the second quarter. Sophomores Mintzer and Jack Kinnear scored just over a minute apart to give the Cardinals their first lead, and then Jason Brown provided a two-goal margin with 3:28 left.
The Dons could not cut into the margin and trailed 3-1 at the break. Loyola kept up the pressure, but they could not get a shot past McSorley.
Calvert Hall made them pay when defenseman Matt Brashears picked up a ground ball to run a counter-attack and fed Timmy Kelly, who scored from close-range for a 4-1 Cardinals lead with 20 seconds left in the third quarter.
"It really showed the Calvert Hall/Loyola rivalry," Brashears said. "It was a big game, the biggest game of the year. We had to win to make the playoffs and now I think we can make a run."
Loyola kept up the pressure in the final quarter and had a two-man advantage with eight minutes remaining, but they still could not solve Calvert Hall's defense. The Cardinals got another penalty less than a minute later and this time Lombardo converted and the Dons trailed 4-2 with 6:36 left.
However, Powers won the ensuing faceoff, ran the length of the field and and scored to get the margin back to three goals.
"I was going down and I saw the bottom left [defenseman] pull out, so there was an alley right to the goal and I just took it," Powers said. "They definitely had the momentum, but once I got that, it pretty much sealed it for us."
After Brian Smith pulled Loyola to within 5-3 with 2:39 remaining, Mintzer responded for Calvert Hall 26 seconds later and the Cardinals could look ahead to Friday.
"You have to give them credit because they played a very good game defensively," Loyola coach Jack Crawford said. "They really managed the possessions of the ball and the clock very well. They capitalized on all the best scoring opportunities they had."
No. 5 Calvert Hall 6, No. 7 Loyola 3
Goals: L-- Jones, Lombardo, Smith; C-- Mintzer 2, Kinnear, Brown, Kelly, Powers. Assists: L-- Lombardo, Roesner; C-- Kelly, Brashears.
Saves: L-- Newton 12; C-- McSorley 10.
Half: C: 3-1