Something unusual happened to McDonogh yesterday at Gilman -- the Eagles needed to work.
Going into the match, McDonogh had not lost to a Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference (or MSA) team since 1991 and won 90 of 92 matches since 1987.
More often than not, the Eagles won with little trouble. This season, for example, McDonogh stood 45-0 in MIAA individual matches and 9-0 as a team.
And even though McDonogh wrapped up its fourth consecutive perfect season in league play and scored its 43rd straight victory with a 4-1 decision over Gilman, the Greyhounds made the victors sweat.
Gilman (9-1, 9-1) pushed McDonogh (16-0, 10-0) to the limit. Four matches went to three sets -- but McDonogh survived the test and won three of them.
"I enjoy it, it's a nice test," said McDonogh coach Laddie Levy. "It's our toughest test in the league since 1991."
That was when Gilman handed McDonogh, which now has eight perfect seasons out of nine in the league, its last league loss.
Yesterday, at No. 1, Nick Colvin topped Gilman's Parajat Didolkar, 6-3, 7-5; Andy Robbins (No. 3) beat Clayton Apgar, 7-5, 0-6, 6-4; Kevin Fishkind (No. 4) defeated Ageti Boto, 6-2, 2-6, 6-0, and Craig Schulman (No. 5) beat Alec Wasserman, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1.
Fishkind said the team needed to be pushed -- especially because that had not happened often.
"It was kind of tough, but it was good for us," said Fishkind. "Close matches are good for you."
The third set proved to be good for Fishkind. After he and Boto split the first two sets, Fishkind took command. He rolled over Boto in the final set, winning six straight games in only 15 minutes.
Schulman also played strongly in the final set, quickly finishing off Wasserman in seven games. Robbins needed to work a little harder and broke Apgar in the final game to win the match.
"They're good all the way," said Gilman coach Jim Busick. "They've got so many players. We don't go quite that deep."
Alex Fine gave Gilman its lone victory. Playing at No. 2, Fine rallied from a set down for a 5-7, 6-4, 7-5 victory over Ross Cooperman.
The match was a preview for the A Conference team championship as both teams won their divisions. Gilman goes to McDonogh Thursday to try and stop the Eagles from winning their fourth straight team title and eighth in the last nine years.
It also could have offered some previews for the A Conference's individual championships in two weeks, also at McDonogh. The Eagles stole the show last year by sweeping all six individual championships -- for the second straight year.
Levy said he liked that Gilman pushed his team so hard yesterday. He said it's been awhile since anybody has really made the Eagles concerned as they have won 103 of their last 105 individual league matches.
"It's wonderful for them," said Levy. "It makes the league more important. The league should be the most important thing for them."