At the start of the season, the Calvert Hall lacrosse team was considered one of a number of viable contenders in the demanding Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference.
By the middle of league play, the Cardinals took hold of first place and the area's No. 1 ranking.
On Thursday, they kept tight hold.
With five straight goals in the second half, Calvert Hall was able to stay a step ahead of defending champion McDonogh, getting a four-goal, two-assist effort from senior midfielder Brendan Curry to help seal a 12-6 win in the championship game at Johns Hopkins' Homewood Field.
Like McDonogh did last season, the Cardinals (17-2) went undefeated in league play, going 9-0 during the regular season and then getting a semifinal win against Loyola Blakefield on Monday before the season's biggest win Thursday. It's Calvert Hall's third MIAA A crown and first since 2012. Daniel Kelly added three goals and Jacob Kelly scored twice in the Cardinals' win.
"This is how we played all year," Curry said. "Coming in, we were confident and we just battled. We had no quit in us and we literally weathered the storm as the coach was saying. We just battled tough."
When asked about the big second half run, Curry was quick with his words, just like the string of goals that made the difference.
"Faceoffs, started moving the ball fast, shots started falling and this team just had it," he said.
On April 21, Calvert Hall beat then-No. 1 McDonogh, 11-9, to take over the area's No. 1 spot.
On Thursday, the Cardinals' dominant second half didn't make it as close. Leading 6-5 early in the third quarter, their attack found a fast and precise higher level with two goals from Daniel Kelly, and others from Jack Sawyer and Cole Herbert to take a 10-5 lead into the fourth quarter. When Curry scored with 9:58 left in the fourth quarter, the Cardinals were safely on their way with an 11-5 advantage.
The start of the game was delayed 1 hour, 20 minutes because of thunderstorms, but the weather stayed clear throughout the game.
The first half consisted of runs from both sides and the Cardinals' was a little bigger, providing them with a 5-3 halftime lead.
The Cardinals had the ball a lot in the first quarter, outshooting the Eagles 15-2, and it enabled them to build a 3-1 lead on goals from Jacob Kelly, Daniel Kelly and Connor Mitchell. The lead would extend to 5-1 with Curry and Jacob Kelly scoring 1:07 apart early in the second quarter before the Eagles would prove opportunistic on two-man advantage situations to pull within two goals at the break.
With 6:24 until halftime, Griffin Catlett finished on a pass from Jack Sweeney to end the Cardinals' four-goal run. With the Cardinals down two players minutes later, Powderly cut the lead to 5-3 with Sweeney once again supplying the assist. McDonogh goalie Evan Long had five saves in the half, including four in the first quarter that included back-to-back on point-blank shots from JT Bugliosi and Jacob Kelly when the game was still tied at 1.
The Cardinals' perfection in league play surpassed expectations of their coach, Bryan Kelly, who always tells his players going into every season how difficult it is to go undefeated in the MIAA. Starting with a largely new defense and first-year goalie Liam Darragh, who made four saves Thursday, the signs were there when they quickly settled in. With a strong senior class and an adjustment on attack — Jacob Kelly moving behind the cage to play quarterback, while Bugliosi played out front with his wicked shot — the Cardinals kept improving while the wins continued.
"I never thought that would happen. You always say it's very difficult to go undefeated and I always tell the kids before the season, 'Don't worry, no one is going undefeated.' And well, we just did," Bryan Kelly said. "I just think this is really one of the top teams in the country, if not the best. I think we're really that good."
And what made the Cardinals that good?
"No one cares who gets the glory," Kelly said. "It's a team group and all they wanted to do was win today. It's all they cared about."
McDonogh (17-4) got three goals and an assist from Liam Powderly and nine saves from goalie Evan Long.
Goals: M—Powderly 3, Catlett, Parr, Simmons; CH—Curry 4, D. Kelly 3, J. Kelly 2, Herbert, Mitchell, Sawyer. Assists: M—Sweeney 3, Parr, Powderly; CH—Bugliosi 2, Curry 2, Herbert. Saves: M—Long 9; CH—Darragh 4. Half: CH, 5-3