This time of year has become a rite of passage for the McDonogh boys soccer team, which finds a way to take its game to an even higher level when the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference playoffs arrive.
In Wednesday's semifinal, No. 15 Loyola visited McDonogh and brought its typical intensity. When the No. 1 Eagles matched it, their overwhelming talent took over and the result was a stunning 5-0 win that sends them to Johns Hopkins on Monday to defend their league championship.
The Eagles (20-2) will meet the winner of tonight's 6:30 semifinal between Mount St. Joseph and host Calvert Hall in that school's first night game.
If Wednesday's performance is any indication, the Eagles, who will make their 11th title-game appearance in 12 years seeking their sixth championship, appear primed for a third straight crown.
They attacked the Loyola goal relentlessly, getting first-half goals from Ryan Kennedy and Marquez Fernandez and then leaving no doubt when Moses Makinde made it 3-0 early in the second half. Fernandez said words from McDonogh coach Steve Nichols throughout the week set the tone early.
"Steve just told us that we have to come out hard and play intense the whole game because that's how Loyola plays. They're a tough team, they play intense and that's how they win games. So we just had to match their work rate or better, and that's what we did and got the result," Fernandez said.
After a 1-0 loss to Calvert Hall on Oct. 14, McDonogh has put together six straight shutout wins, scoring 27 goals in the stretch. The team's only other loss came against Mount St. Joseph, a 2-1 setback in early October, which Fernandez believes sets up an ideal championship game no matter which team advances.
"It's just about competing," he said. "And it's really a best-of-three game because whichever team we play - either Mount St. Joe or Calvert Hall - we each have a win and a loss. So it's really going to be a battle, and whoever wins can claim to be the best."
Loyola, which ends its season at 8-6-2, got a fine performance in goal from four-year starter Tim Peitsch, who made nine saves.
"You can't be off against McDonogh because they are the most talented team in the league," Loyola coach Lee Tschantret said.
"You have to be on and have things fall your way, and we just weren't on and they were all over us. Our guys were trying, they were working really hard, and as a coach that's all you can ask for. Days like this just happen, and it's unfortunate it came in the semifinals."
Goals: M-Fernandez, Imback, Kennedy, Makinde, Rockefeller. Assists: M-Kansaye, Kirkwood. Saves: L-Peitsch 9, Walker; M-Sanchez. Half: M, 2-0.