Playing forward for the McDonogh girls soccer team, All-Metro junior Baylee DeSmit brings a fierce temperament that’s a perfect complement to her game sense and high skills.
In the No. 2 Eagles’ showdown at No. 1 Archbishop Spalding in Thursday’s regular-season finale, she featured all those traits in the game’s most important minute.
After pressuring the Cavaliers’ back line into a miscue, she won a ball just inside the 18-yard mark and dribbled around drawn-out goalie Emma Murray.
All that was left was to put the ball in the empty net with her reliable left foot.
The goal came with 15:59 to play and the Eagles held firm to claim a 1-0 win over the Cavaliers and secure first place in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference. Taking on the lead role against rival Spalding is nothing new for DeSmit, who scored three goals in the Eagles’ 5-0 win over the Cavaliers in last year’s championship.
“I think it’s just what soccer is. You need to come up in big moments and I’m just happy I did today,” DeSmit said.
McDonogh (14-1), Spalding (12-1-1) and Mercy (13-2) all finished 5-1 in league play with the two-time defending champion Eagles taking over first place and earning an opening-round bye in next week’s playoffs. With each team having a win and loss against the other two, it came down to the sixth tiebreaker (goal differential against league competition) for the Eagles to stake claim to the top seed.
Spalding finishes as the second seed and will host seventh seed Roland Park in Tuesday’s quarterfinal round. Mercy is the third seed set and will meet sixth seed John Carroll with fourth seed St. Paul’s hosting fifth seed Notre Dame Prep.
Last season, McDonogh and Spalding, which have combined to win the past 11 league titles with the Eagles claiming seven of them, played to a 2-2 draw in the regular season, finished with identical 7-0-1 league marks and a coin flip had to decide the top seed.
On Thursday, the game was just as even well into the second half with both teams generating scoring chances and both defenses holding impressively strong with so much at stake.
Less than 30 seconds before DeSmit’s goal, the Cavaliers had one of the best chances at the game’s first goal when Ashley Tutas played a quality ball through to Sophie Thibeault on the left side. But goalie Maddie Lowney came out aggressively to get a good chunk of the shot, leaving defender Kemper Robinson to clear the weakened try off the goal line.
DeSmit scored the next time the Eagles were at the other end with midfielder Allison Peay winning a big header in the middle to get the ball forward. The Cavaliers pushed for the tying goal, but the Eagles kept them in check with quality defense and possession.
McDonogh coach Harry Canellakis felt his Eagles came out a little shaky in the first half but more than made up for it in the second.
“I was super happy with the way we played in the second half. We got the goal and we were really smart after that. I thought we showed our experience at the end, really liked how we managed the game,” he said.
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Ranked No. 1 in the country at the time, the Eagles were upset by Mercy, 1-0, on their home field on Sept. 26. It put them out of first place – a rare thing in recent years – and they served notice before getting back there on Thursday.
“I think Mercy .. that was a big hit for us,” said Robinson. “And I think after that, for these past couple weeks, we’ve really been on top of our game and we’ve been working so hard in training. I think today, first half was kind of a little rattled for us…we were a little off our game. But it was really awesome to be able to pull it out and I’m really glad we’re back to where we belong.”
The Cavaliers left the field knowing they were right there with the defending champions and coach Ashly Kennedy thinks their first loss can serve as a valuable lesson.
“I think overall, it was a quality battle between two teams and it wasn’t a goal they generated that cost us the game. It was a mistake that is fixable,” she said.
“The biggest thing is not the result that happened, but how we respond. We’re going to work hard this week, we’ve worked hard all season. We’re a team that added 14 new players and it speaks volumes to where we’re at this season.”