There was a point in the second half of Wednesday Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference semifinal when No. 8 Archbishop Spalding seemed destined to pull off the biggest upset of the girls lacrosse season.
It came when officials waved off an apparent goal by top-ranked McDonogh for a crease violation, and the visiting Cavaliers, who had held the ball for minutes at a time to slow the tempo and drain the clock, scored to go ahead by two.
Eagles midfielder Blair Pearre had seen enough.
On the next draw, the Towson-bound senior scooped a tough ground ball in traffic, outran the defense and scored on a play worthy of any highlight reel. The goal, one of Pearre’s six on the day, put the swagger back in McDonogh’s step, as the nation’s consensus No. 1 team scored six straight, holding Spalding to one goal over the final 14:03 in a 10-7 win.
“I knew we had to get that draw. It was definitely a crucial time,” Pearre said. “I just ran full speed at the goal and I just had to do what I usually do and get the goal. It was definitely a big play. I gave it my all for that ground ball and I guess it paid off.”
“Blair was awesome today,” Eagles coach Taylor Cummings said. “She put the team on her back in the second half.”
McDonogh (20-0) advances to the A Conference final, where it will face St. Paul’s, a 9-8 overtime winner over No. 3 Glenelg Country in the other semifinal, Saturday at 4 p.m. at Gerstell Academy in Finksburg. The Gators took the Eagles to overtime earlier this year, and also knocked off Notre Dame Prep, the defending A Conference champion, in overtime Monday.
The Eagles had won nine straight championships prior to last year.
To get the chance for another, McDonogh first had to outlast a Spalding team that could do little wrong in the first 35 minutes.
Paced by junior Kristin O’Neill’s three goals, the Cavaliers (15-4), who entered the day riding an eight-game winning streak, controlled play for much of the early going, building a 6-4 lead when Lindsey Beardmore found teammate Haley Urgo in front with 14:03 to play.
Trailing, 6-5, McDonogh then got a big break when officials issued a yellow card to the Cavaliers’ Olivia Malamphy for a hit to the head, sending her to the sidelines for two minutes. The Eagles responded with three straight extra-man goals over the next 1:34, including two by Pearre, to take an 8-6 lead.
“Going man-up and allowing our offense to do what we do really well in our man-up sets was awesome,” McDonogh coach Taylor Cummings said. “It gave us a little freedom, it gave us the ability to find some openings that we weren't finding through a very tough Spalding defense even when we are evenly matched. I think that that yellow card was kind of a game changer.”
“That caused a huge momentum shift in this game,” Spalding coach Tara Restly said. “It's unfortunate for our kids that that had to shift [it]. Our kids played their hearts out. It's unfortunate it ended in a loss, but our kids laid it out there today.”
By the time attacker Izzy Marsh scored the second of her two straight goals with 4:06 left, McDonogh – which also had needed a late rally to beat Spalding when the teams met in March — had a commanding 10-6 lead.
Pearre gave credit to the defense, which time and again forced key second-half turnovers to put the Eagles back on the attack.
“I think defense made the difference today,” Pearre said. “[Spalding] would have the ball for 7-8 minutes on the offensive end, and our defense just never gave up. They got the ball back and gave us those offensive reps and gave us those chances to put the ball in the back of the net.”
For the Cavaliers, the loss was a disappointing end to an otherwise stellar season. Though her team’s bid for a first IAAM title fell short, Restly said her players, particularly her 12 seniors, had no reason to hang their heads.
“Our seniors in this program have… risen to every occasion,” Restly said. “They’ve kind of been up against it and they've continued to rise above. We couldn't be more proud of those kids.”
Goals: AS-O’Neill 3, Jordan 2, Urgo 2; M-Pearre 6, Schettig 2, Marsh 2. Assists: AS-Beardmore, O’Neill; M- Godine 2, Dorsey. Saves: AS-Gunning 6; M-Geoghan 2, Hammerschlag 2. Half: AS, 5-3.