The indication from the early lacrosse season in the demanding Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference is that the league has its usual balance and depth.
That makes the early portion of the league schedule just as important as the later dates, when teams scramble for playoff spots and positioning.
After starting slow in Tuesday's home game against defending champion Loyola, McDonogh settled in and found defensive answers when needed to come away with a 9-8 win.
The No. 2 Eagles improved to 9-1 overall and 2-0 in league play with balanced scoring up top, a nine-save performance by junior goalie Jacob Stover in back and sturdy play everywhere else.
The No. 4 Dons, coming off an impressive home win over Gilman on Friday in their league opener, are now 5-4 and 1-1.
Adding to the satisfaction for the Eagles was a renewed sense of where they stood after falling to Loyola in last season's semifinal round, 13-4.
"It is early and we've been here before and we know in this league you got to get ready right away," McDonogh coach Andy Hilgartner said. "It was a great win because Loyola is always a good program and with their win against Gilman they were in a good spot, too. So, we really needed this win today."
Robby Black, Trey McGee and Connor Young each scored two goals and Bobby Austin added a goal and an assist.
After falling behind 3-1 in the first five minutes, the Eagles won faceoffs and ground balls with hustle, got some key defensive stops and put away scoring chances. The home team closed out the second quarter with three straight goals — McGee with the first, followed by two straight from Young — to take a 6-5 halftime lead.
After the Dons got even at 6 on a score from Alex Roesner (two goals) early in the third quarter, McDonogh got goals from Black, Austin and McGee to take a 9-6 lead going into the fourth quarter.
Loyola junior Ryan Conrad scored twice in the fourth quarter, his fourth goal of the game coming with 1:07 to play to cut Gilman's lead to 9-8.
But a ground ball scooped up by Alex Hurdle helped secure the win. Two saves from Stover in the fourth quarter — particularly one on a shot by Roesner with 5:16 to play and the Eagles down a man with a 9-7 lead — also played big.
"It was off of transition, he came down and made a great shot, but thank God I got a stick on it, at least my ankle, my foot on it — just a piece of something," said Stover, who is in his first season as a starter. "It really helped me out, it helped my defense out and it helped our offense out to keep the spark going."
No. 2 McDonogh 9 No. 4 Loyola 8
Goals: L – Conrad 4, Roesner 2, Lombardo, Riehl;
M – Black 2, Young 2, McGee 2, Austin, Valis, Senft.
Assists: L – Chasney;
M – Clark, Austin.
Saves: L – Newton 6;
M – Stover 9.
Half: M, 6-5