Nothing has come easy in this Maryland interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference soccer season.
And just when it looked like that may change Thursday — when No. 2 Loyola scored the first three goals at No. 5 Gilman — the season-long trend still held to form. After surrendering two goals late in the second half, the Dons had to survive 10 anxious moments before earning a 3-2 win over the Greyhounds.
Loyola gotimpressive finishes from Gavin Barger, Jeremy DeGraffenreidt and Austin Illiano and five saves from Chris Girken. The Dons (12-3-2, 9-2-2 MIAA) now have 29 points and are tied for first place with Archbishop Curley (13-3-2, 9-2-2) with one game left in the regular season.
Combined with McDonogh's overtime loss to Calvert Hall — leaving the third-place Eagles (10-3-3, 7-3-3) with 24 points — both Loyola and Curley are assured the top two spots in the upcoming playoffs and a bye in the opening round. Loyola closes its regular season by hosting Calvert Hall at 2:30 p.m Saturday, while Curley visits Mount St. Joseph at 3 p.m. Saturday.
"I think we've had one game [in the MIAA] when we won by more than a goal," Loyola coach Lee Tschantret said. "So every game has been a great one, and any time you can get points on this field [it] is a great result, because they're very organized, they work hard and fight to the last second. Frankly, we got a bit lucky, but I'll take the three points."
Barger opened the scoring with a heavy shot from 30-plus yards that took no time finding the upper-left corner. After DeGraffenreidt neatly placed a shot from eight yards into the opposite corner for a 2-0 lead in the closing seconds of the first half, the Greyhounds opened up the second half with their best opportunity at that point. But Girken blocked Anthony Kim's quick turn and fire from six yards out to protect the two-goal lead.
After Illiano headed home a ball sent in by Ryan Conrad to give the Dons a 3-0 advantage with 35 minutes to play, the game appeared to be in hand.
But the Greyhounds stayed persistent, and when Robby Vint and Sam Wancowicz scored goals five minutes apart, they had 10 minutes left to find the tying goal. It never came.
"You can never rest against Gilman, because they're always going 100 percent no matter what, and they're always dangerous," DeGraffenreidt said. "After we scored our third goal, it felt like we sat back a little bit and were too relaxed. They're a good team, but if we want to win the championship we can't let that happen. We have to be a lot more disciplined and more in control. So this is a win and a lesson learned."
Gilman coach Jon Seal appreciated his Greyhounds' comeback bid, but said they need fix things if they plan to make a strong run in the playoffs. Gilman (11-3-4, 6-3-4) is in fourth place with 22 points.
"We're going to have to regroup quickly and improve in our execution in the offensive third if we want to do something [in the playoffs] next week," Seal said." I told my kids they fought their guts out, played as hard as they could, but our execution was lagging behind a little bit. So, hey, I'm disappointed but I'm not upset with the effort."
No. 2 Loyola 3, No. 5 Gilman 2
Goals: L – Barger, J. DeGraffenreidt, Illiano; G – Vint, S. Wancowicz.
Assists: L – Conrad; G -- Brown
Saves: L – Girken 5; G – Wittich 8.
Half: L, 2-0.