It’s getting to that time of the soccer season in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference when the urgency level is raised, the three points for a win become that much more precious and the space on the field is at a premium.
With No. 1 McDonogh and No. 8 Loyola Blakefield tied in the latter stages of the second half Friday, Eagles junior forward Bryant Mayer created some of that valuable room.
Working from right to left, Mayer’s decisive cut to set up his left foot was taken away, so he made a second cut to set up his right, cleanly striking a ball from 14 yards into the right corner of the net. The goal, coming with 13:20 to play, gave the Eagles a 3-2 win over the visiting Dons to reclaim first place in the league standings.
McDonogh, which got two goals from senior standout Jacob Murrell, improved to 16-2 overall and 14-2 for 42 points in the MIAA. Calvert Hall, which fell to Gilman, 1-0, on Wednesday, is in second place with a 13-2-1 mark and 40 points. Loyola Blakefield is 9-5-3 and in fourth place with 30 points.
Mayer described his timely goal as exhilarating.
“The whole team, we knew we wanted this bad, wanting the first seed,” he said. “We wanted to show who we are, how much mentality we have, and how strong we think we are as a team. Not only personnel-wise, our coaching staff, our subs, our bench — everyone is here as a team, everyone is working together.”
A span of less than two minutes in an evenly played first half provided all the offense.
Murrell opened the scoring with 26:29 to play in the half when he pounced on a rebound in front after Loyola goalkeeper Jordy Eckman (seven saves) made an initial stop on Ethan Glaser’s shot from the right side.
Exactly 30 seconds later, the Dons responded, as Evan Onate tied the game off a feed from Jackson Graham.
All season long, Murrell has been the Eagles’ catalyst, and it was more of the same when he cut off an errant pass to Eckman and scored his 28th goal of the season with 25:15 left.
“I’m running out of superlatives to describe the man. He just continues to do it,” McDonogh coach Brandon Quaranta said. “I told you in preseason that we’re going to go as far as he takes us and forget the 28 goals and 12 or 13 assists, whatever he’s got. He’s a leader, he works harder than anybody on the team and to be the best player in the league and also the hardest worker — that says all you need to know about him.”
Despite the host Eagles controlling play for the first part of the second half, they weren’t able to build on their advantage, with Eckman making a stellar point-blank save on Murrell in the opening five minutes. Midway through the half, the Dons were able to equalize when freshman midfielder Sammie Walker carried through middle and hit an unsuspecting shot from 18 yards out for his first career goal.
The Eagles stayed persistent, carried play, and Mayer provided the reward seven minutes later.
“I thought we were the team that was the aggressor creating the chances to win the game,” Quaranta said. “What I told them that I was most proud about is [Loyola] scored in the run of the play and it’s easy at that point against a good team to now drop the next five or 10 minutes and concede the [offensive] third and get an unfortunate result. But we came back to play after a few minutes that were rough and pushed ahead to get the game winner, which I was really proud of.”
Loyola Blakefield coach Lee Tschantret, whose Dons claimed league wins over Gilman and Archbishop Spalding earlier in the week, didn’t see the usual energy from his group in Friday’s second half.
“Yeah, I think — although I really hate excuses — I think at the end of the day the legs got to us,” he said. “Three games in a week is just difficult and it kind of caught us there in the second half, and against a team like that, you got to have everything about you.”
With less than two weeks to play in the regular season, both teams return to league play Wednesday. McDonogh travels to John Carroll with game time set for 4 p.m., while Loyola tries to bounce back at Archbishop Curley at 4:15.
Goals: LB – Onate, Walker; M – Murrell 2, Mayer Assists: LB – Graham; M -- Glaser
Saves: LB – Eckman 7; M – Anderson 4
Half: M 2-1
St. Mary’s 30, Boys’ Latin 23: The visiting Saints (5-2, 5-0 Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference) beat the Lakers (4-4, 2-3). St. Mary’s bounced back from a 49-28 loss to Calvert Hall on Oct. 8. The loss ended a two-game winning streak by Boys’ Latin.
Archbishop Spalding 6, Urbana 0: Reagan Mallia and Riley Wills each scored twice to lead the host Cavaliers (8-3) past the Hawks (5-6). Spalding extended its winning streak to four games.
Maryvale 3, Archbishop Spalding 0: Caitlin Shaffrey had eight kills and three aces and Libby Porter had 11 kills to lead the Lions (13-0, 7-0 Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference) past the host Cavaliers (9-6, 5-3). Maryvale won, 25-20, 25-22, 25-12.