McDonogh co-coaches Ted Scocos and Maurice Boylan entered yesterday's game with 12th-ranked Mercy wondering how their top-ranked Eagles would handle a stiff challenge.
They got their answer in a come-from-behind, 3-1 Catholic League victory that earned McDonogh (8-0, 6-0) sole possession of first place.
Three minutes before halftime, McDonogh, ranked No. 5 nationally by USA Today, trailed for the first time this year after freshman Tina Steck chipped her shot past Eagles goalkeeper Sarah Manekin.
Four minutes later, however, the Eagles led 2-1.
"We may be undefeated and No. 1, but we have great heads on our shoulders. We come out thinking that every team is out to get us," said All-County midfielder Christina Coroneos, who scored the Eagles' second goal a minute into the second half. "We know what's going on. That's the best thing about our team."
All-County striker Laurie Schwoy, the area's scoring leader with 20 goals and seven assists, made it 3-1 on her second goal of the day, off a corner kick by Susan Pitt. The goal was scored among a cluster of players with 15 minutes left in the game.
"The ball was bouncing around and it was right by the goal line," said Mercy keeper Lisa Olszewski (21 saves), who left the game after a minor injury late in the first half. "I fell over [teammate] Krista Graf and Laurie was there to put it in."
Mercy (6-2, 5-1) had outscored its opponents 24-9, including 13-0 in its past four league shutouts, against Archbishop Spalding, Institute of Notre Dame, Catholic and John Carroll.
But the Eagles demonstrated how they have outscored their opponents 35-7 with three shutouts, plus a 3-1 victory over No. 2-ranked Hammond -- which is ranked No. 17 nationally.
McDonogh dominated the Sharpshooters statistically, with an advantage in shots (50-7) and corner kicks (10-2).
The Sharpshooters had one second-half shot against the Eagles' ailing defense. All-Metro sweeper Alison Schroeder limped slightly after twisting an ankle in Monday's practice, and Eagles stopper Liz French was bothered by an ear infection.
Equally tough defense by the Sharpshooters prevented McDonogh from scoring on its first nine corner kicks, although Schwoy (15 shots), Coroneos (10), Pitt (six) and striker Sonia Chase (seven) all had good scoring chances.
"We definitely weren't very good on those," said McDonogh's Kara Cristaldi, who initiated those nine. "I could have brought them out [from the goal] more."
Olszewski had kept McDonogh at bay until Steck scored on her team's fifth shot of the game.
"The ball was crossed and [teammate] Heather Miskiewicz got a head on it," Steck said.
"It was deflected toward me, so I just shot it in."
Less than a minute later, Olszewski reinjured her knee, joining starters Lisette Desmarais (hamstring), Aubrey Schaeffer (hamstring) and Melissa Davidson (back), all of whom missed portions of the game with injuries.
Olszewski was replaced by Nicki Castagna (three saves), whom Schwoy exploited for the game-tying goal. She shook Maura Hilgartener, one of several players who sometimes double- and triple-teamed her.
"The ball came out to me, I took it one way, then the other. I got my right leg free and just hit it high," said Schwoy, whose 20-yard unassisted shot sailed over Castagna's outstretched hands.
The second half had scarcely begun before Coroneos pounded McDonogh's second goal from the top of the penalty area past Castagna.
"When our starting goalie went down, that was the icing on the cake. Castagna did a nice job but she's not Lisa," said Mercy coach Bob Doerfler. "Maura did one heck of a good job on Laurie, but it cost us an offensive player."