Unranked in the preseason, the Mount St. Joseph boys soccer team continued its surge as the leader of the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference with a 1-0 triumph over visiting and No. 3 McDonogh yesterday.
The lone goal for the No. 10 Gaels, who improved their record to 11-2-1 (8-1 in conference), came from sophomore forward Saah Johnson in the 31st minute of the second half.
"We've been looking forward to some of these games," said Mount St. Joseph coach Mike St. Martin.
"We thought we had a decent team last year, and we were disappointed with the way we performed. This year, we've been focused."
The Gaels kept a tight rein on McDonogh's leading scorer, Matt Beckman, and first-team All-Metro midfielder Brian Yi as defenders Will Garmen, Matt Dryer and Joe Meyer helped keeper Dave Semko (eight saves) earn a shutout.
Semko faced several attacks from the defending league champion Eagles (11-4-1, 5-3) in the second half.
The senior outleaped Beckman for a ball in the 33rd minute, and weathered an attempt less than a minute later by Zac Johns, who slipped just enough to lose momentum on a kick that went right of the goal.
After a nifty pass to Jake Dashiell, Mount St. Joseph's Johnson got the ball back. From between two defenders, Johnson sent a shot to the right of Eagles freshman keeper Alex Horwath (six saves) from about 10 yards.
"I just tried to lay it beside him and it went off his hands into the goal," said Johnson, who was denied minutes earlier on a kick save by Horwath.
Johnson missed on an opportunity in the first half of an intense, physical match dominated by Mount St. Joseph in the opening 40 minutes.
The Eagles' Colin Barclay drew a yellow card while defending against Johnson in the 35th minute of the second half, and Joe Pietropaoli also received one while marking Johnson in the 30th minute.
In the 18th minute, McDonogh caught Semko out of position, but Johns floated a shot over the goal.
Eagles coach Stephen Nichols said his team will need to establish a presence much earlier and often if the Eagles have any real aspirations of returning to the MIAA A final.
"You've got to play for 80 minutes. I don't care how good we are," said Nichols, whose team has been to the past three title games.
"As young as we are, we're talented, but we need to match our opponent's intensity."