The journey was different for the 2022 McDonogh boys lacrosse team.
The regular season had uncharacteristic bumps, a so-so record far below the program’s standards and a look of uncertainty at times.
But one thing the No. 6 Eagles never had was doubt.
And by Friday night’s Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship game against No. 4 St. Mary’s, the troubles were far behind them.
Junior attackman McCabe Millon finished with four goals and two assists and senior goalie Anthony Wilson was sensational with nine saves as McDonogh started fast and had plenty left at the end to claim a convincing 14-8 win over the Saints at a packed Navy Marine-Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.
In claiming the program’s fourth MIAA A Conference crown and first since 2016, the Eagles started as The Baltimore Sun’s No. 1 ranked team in the preseason poll, dropped as far as No. 9 with a record that was one game over .500 and finally found their top form at the end to finish with a 13-6 mark.
In the end, all the turbulence made the Eagles a stronger team. And champions.
“I think it was just those losses early in the year that really taught us what it meant to be down and none of us wanted to experience that again,” Millon said. “So we just put our noses down, dug in and were able to do this, which is just beyond unbelievable.”
After winning their last two regular-season games to qualify for the playoffs this season — last year the Eagles were undefeated before losing to eventual champion Boys’ Latin in the semifinal round — they knocked out Archbishop Spalding in the quarterfinals and then got a last-second goal to upend Boys’ Latin in the semifinals.
The Eagles’ plan was to take that energy and confidence into the start of Friday’s title game. With five different goal scorers and Wilson making key stops at the other end, McDonogh built a 5-0 advantage before the Saints finally scored with 1:48 left in the first half.
The Saints, who rattled off 14 straight wins to open the season, were able to regain momentum. When Erik Chick scored to make it 6-4 with 6:21 left in the third quarter, the pressure was on. The Eagles were ready for it.
Freshman Brendan Millon (three goals) — McCabe’s younger brother who missed the bulk of the season with a broken foot — scored one minute later. It would start a four-goal run — highlighted by brother McCabe’s open-field check, ground ball win and goal — to help build the lead back up to 10-4 early in the fourth quarter.
McDonogh coach Andy Hilgartner said it was just a matter of time before the Eagles figured things out, particularly on offense, as they improved their spacing and moved the ball quicker. McDonogh closed the season with five straight wins — the first two needed to make the playoffs, and the last three to win the title.
“It was a different path for sure than we’ve had. ... This year, we got tested like maybe like we haven’t been,” Hilgartner said. “So when you’re down like that, I think you have to rely on your senior leadership and the character of your team and I think we’re really strong in that area and that made a huge difference.”
The Saints got four goals from Chick, three goals from Will Hopkins and eight saves from goalie Zack Overend. Saints coach Victor Lilly cited the Eagles’ domination on ground balls and the early deficit as costly. It didn’t diminish a fine season that had the Saints playing in the league’s biggest game.
“There’s 47 kids on our team, they competed,” he said. “We’re 17-3 now I guess, so for 20 games they competed for 48 minutes ... So I’m definitely proud of them. They showed up everyday and went to work and got better. ... It stinks that we lost, but at the end of day we had a heck of a season and we’re very proud of what we accomplished.”
Goals: M -- M. Millon 4, B. Millon 3, McMillen, Green, Miller 2, Moore, Jones, Hahn;
SM -- Hopkins 3, Chick 4, Kucinski,
Assists: M -- M. Millon 2, L. Miller;
SM -- Kucinski 2, Burlace
Saves: M -- Wilson 9;
SM -- Overend 8
Half: M, 5-2