It was evident early in Friday night's girls soccer showdown between No. 1 McDonogh and No. 2 Archbishop Spalding that whatever ground that was to be gained would have to be well earned.
Balls at midfield were fiercely challenged and any forward progress was met with defensive resistance. The high level of competition has become the norm when the two teams have played in recent years, making it the area's finest girls soccer rivalry.
Coming out strong in the second half and sensing an advantage, McDonogh, two-time defending Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference champion, was able to break through when junior midfielder Steffani Holmes headed home a corner kick sent in by senior defender Jordan Pearson.
The goal, coming with 31 minutes to play, would hold as the visiting Eagles protected the advantage with a continued strong push that led to a 1-0 win over the Cavaliers.
McDonogh improves to 8-1 overall and 5-0 in the IAAM, while Spalding falls to 5-1-3 and 3-1-1 in league play.
After earning a second straight corner kick, Pearson sent an ideal ball right to the middle — just far enough from Spalding goalkeeper Cassidy Babin, yet close enough for Holmes to run on to firmly head home the ball for her first goal of the season.
"I was just honored to score the goal," said Holmes, who plays defensive central midfielder. "Everybody worked so hard every day in practice and set pieces is one of the things that we do work on. I'm just glad to be the one to finish. It was surreal, very hard to explain. It was great cross from Jordan — perfect, right on the dot."
The Cavaliers came out fast and played better in the first 20 minutes, but they were unable to take advantage with any solid scoring chances. The Eagles, who got strong play from junior midfielder Casey Martinez and freshmen forwards Kia Rankin and Bridgette Andrzejewski, began to settle in as the half wore on and then fully found their offensive flow in the second half.
"Halftime it was all about … how we need to get back into our rhythm, and play together as a team, and calm it down for ourselves and not play frantic. So that's what we tried to do and I think we did it pretty well," Martinez said.
The Cavaliers created chances late, but were unable to find the tying goal. Sarah Ensor had a step on a defender to gain space in the middle, but her left-footed shot from 14 yards ended up wide of the goal.
Babin led the Cavaliers' strong defensive effort with eight saves.
Spalding coach Bob Dieterle said he learned a lot about his team in the past two days. On Wednesday, the Cavaliers earned a 0-0 draw at Good Counsel, which came into the game ranked No. 1 in the country by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.
"As I said to them coming in 'You're not going to win or lose the championship this week, but you are going to learn something about yourself.' And what they learned is that they're a really good team, really good teammates and everybody left it on the field. We played two really good teams in 48 hours and we gave up one goal," he said.
1 McDonogh 1, 2 Spalding 0
Goals: M -- Holmes
Assists: M – Pearson
Saves: M – Clark 2; S – Babin 8