In the nick of time, the Calvert Hall soccer team found something to build on with the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference playoffs arriving next week.
Trailing by a goal at the half to visiting John Carroll and still looking to secure a spot in the postseason, the No. 7 Cardinals played 40 minutes of urgent and precise soccer in their regular-season finale on Wednesday. All-Metro senior Ben Bender scored the tying and winning goals, both headers from set pieces, as the Cardinals pulled out a 3-1 win over the Patriots.
Calvert Hall (8-6-1) secured third place in the conference’s Black Division with a 7-5-1 mark for 22 points.
Calvert Hall coach Rich Zinkand’s halftime talk focused on the seniors stepping up on senior day and Bender led the way. He twice found space in the Patriots’ penalty area and pounced on opportunities — finishing off a free kick sent in by Michael Gisreal nine minutes into the second half to tie the game before heading home the game-winner from Hayden Lim with 10 minutes left.
With fourth-place John Carroll (6-9, 5-7) sending extra players forward, the Cardinals secured the win with a goal by sophomore Will Andrus.
In addition to the motivational speech at halftime, Bender said adjustments were made to free more space for himself and others in dangerous spots.
“I knew I had to make an impact in the second half,” he said. “This is senior day, but more importantly for the team and not myself, I love coming out every day with these guys. They’re probably my closest friends at Calvert Hall, so I just had to step up and put [a couple] in for the team.”
John Carroll needed a win on Wednesday and then another at Archbishop Curley to pass up the Cardinals in the standings and the Patriots came out ready to take care of half the assignment.
Clogging up the middle and having more time with the ball in the first half, the visitors were able to take advantage when Gavin Greene hit a heavy left-footed shot from 12 yards inside the far post for a 1-0 lead with 15:48 to play in the half.
The Cardinals responded with the fine second half highlighted by the precisely executed two set pieces with Bender at the end of each.
While the Cardinals have had an uneven regular season — they went 2-4-1 against the five playoff teams — they know they have a clean playoff slate that starts in Tuesday’s quarterfinal round at No. 3 Mount Saint Joseph or No. 2 McDonogh.
Wednesday’s performance, with some rest days to get fresh, has Zinkand and the Cardinals optimistic.
“[We] Kind of had a heart-to-heart at halftime that our season was on the line and it was time for the seniors to step up and make some plays, which needs to be done in October. So I give Bender credit for doing that today. And it was a team effort without a doubt,” Zinkand said.
“This year of any year, I think everybody knows this thing is wide open, so we wanted to take a step in the right direction today and earn our way in.”
Six playoff teams are set with one regular-season date remaining Friday.
In the Black Division, Curley claimed the top seed with Loyola Blakefield finishing second and Calvert Hall in third.
In the Red Division, defending champion McDonogh is currently in first place (9-3, 27 points) and can clinch the top seed with a win against St. Paul’s on Friday. Second-place Mount Saint Joseph (8-3-1 for 25 points) can still move into first place with a win against Archbishop Spalding on Friday and a McDonogh loss.
As for the Patriots, Wednesday’s performance was a microcosm of their entire season with glimpses of potential and lapses. With a roster dominated by juniors, coach Jim Fendryk is banking on bigger things ahead.
“I think overall our season was good considering it’s a fairly young group with a lot of juniors, so we got a good core of returning guys coming back,” he said. “But I think the progression, for me, it was good but too inconsistent. We put in some really good performances this year where I’m thinking ‘Man this is a building block’ and then the very next game was a step back. I think we’re close and the more pieces of the puzzle we add over the course of the next couple years will hopefully get us over that hump. … For a long time we’ve been competitive in the A Conference and I’m ready to make that transition and push to compete for championships. I think this year is kind of indicative of where we can go.”