With how tightly contested the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference has been in boys soccer this season, it was only fitting that the deciding goal in Sunday's championship game needed a second effort.
Loyola sophomore forward Ryan Conrad provided it. After his first shot was blocked by a Gilman defender, he collected the ball again, nudged it to his right and then unleashed a shot from 10 yards out that found the lower left corner.
The goal came in the game's 44th minute and was enough, but Conrad added a second goal late in the game to give the No. 2 Dons a 2-0 victory over No. 5 Gilman at Stevenson University in Owings Mills.
After falling in the semifinal round the past three years, the Dons (15-3-2) finally broke through with the program's first league championship since 2005, when they shared the title with Mount St. Joseph.
"The second half, we came out and played amazing," Conrad said. "When I scored my goal, it ricocheted off the defender and then when I put the second shot by the goalie, it was kind of like a weight off my shoulders, the whole team's shoulders, but we knew we couldn't rest because Gilman could come back from any deficit."
Sophomore goakeeper Chris Girken also played big in the win with four saves, his biggest coming a minute before Conrad's first goal. Gilman senior midfielder Anthony Kim settled a ball outside the penalty area and hit a heavy shot from 25 yards that Girken got his fingertips on diving to his right.
After Conrad scored his second goal, taking a feed from senior Jeremy DeGraffenreidt with 12:30 to play, there was a sense that the Dons believed this their season.
"Just like every game we've played this season, it was 80 minutes hard fought," Loyola coach Lee Tschantret said. "Our keeper Chris had to make two spectacular saves that could have changed the game. I couldn't be more excited for this group for what they've done and sacrificed."
Tight marking and jitters dominated the opening minutes, but both teams settled in to create some quality scoring chances in a first half that ended scoreless.
The Dons' best chance of the half came 10 minutes into play when Ryan Hartman sent a ball to the left for Austin Iliano, whose shot from 15 yards hit off the far post.
Late in the half, the Greyhounds earned three consecutive corner kicks and almost finished on the last one when midfielder Hugh Ward hit a firm header to the top right corner that was turned away by Girken.
Despite the setback, Gilman coach Jon Seal said he couldn't ask for anything more from his Greyhounds, who got a seven-save performance from junior goalie Chase Wittich.
"We had chances to score in this game and their goalkeeper came up with some unbelieable saves. We just knew they were going to get opportunities, too — they're too good not to," Gilman coach Jon Seal said. "I just told my kids I've never been prouder of a group. We made it to our third straight final and this was a game that could have gone either way. They just made the plays in the offensive third and we didn't."
Boys' Latin 3, Severn 1: Brian Becker and Maxx Lowenstein scored first-half goals, and Jacob Katinsky provided insurance to lead the Lakers to the B crown.
The Lakers upset top-seeded St. Paul's, 2-1, in the semifinals.
Gerstell Academy 3, St. John's Catholic Prep 0: Nick Wilson, Steven Snyder and Matt Zabetakis each scored to lead the Falcons to their second straight C Conference cown.
In two regular-season meetings, the teams tied 2-2 on Sept. 25 and Gerstell earned a 2-1 win on Oct. 18.
MIAA A Conference
(at Stevenson University)
2 Loyola 2, 5 Gilman 0
Goals: L – Conrad 2.
Assists: L – J. DeGraffenreidt
Saves: G – Wittich 7; L – Girken 4
Boys' Latin 3, Sevrn 1
Goals: Becker, Lowenstein, Katinsky; S – Lavigne
Assists: Severn – Hurlebaus
Saves: S –Domenech 4; BL – Yablon 6
Half: BL, 2-1
Gerstell Acdemy 3, St. John's Catholic Prep 0
Goals: G – Wilson, Snyder, Zabetakis.
Assists:G – Huggins, Gruber
Saves: SJ – Coulehan n/a; GA – McLaughlin na/