Shortly after Calvert Hall's 8-6 victory over Boys' Latin was sealed Friday night, securing its second straight Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference lacrosse title, the No. 2 Cardinals passed around the championship plaque and shared hugs that lasted a little longer.
It was an emotional ending to a trying season for a team that showed how hard it was playing for more than the program's fourth championship.
Shortly after the win, coming before an announced crowd of 2,771 at Towson University's Johnny Unitas Stadium, Calvert Hall coach Bryan Kelly quickly mentioned longtime assistant coach Dave Huntley, who passed away in December. And then on Wednesday morning, before the Cardinals' semifinal win over Loyola Blakefield, senior captain Peter Ilardo's father, Harry Ilardo, passed away after a lengthy illness.
It was fitting that Peter Ilardo scored an extra man goal with 9:30 to play in the second quarter that gave the Cardinals the lead for good at 3-2.
He had plenty of teammates to help protect the advantage as the Cardinals became the first MIAA A team to win back-to-back championships since Loyola Blakefield did it in 2007 and 2008.
Sophomore attackman Daniel Kelly (two goals, one assist), junior midfielders Jack Sawyer (two goals, one assist) and Grant Mitchell (three goals) led the attack with goalie Liam Darragh (six saves) making two big stops in the fourth quarter to help hold off the Lakers.
Calvert Hall closed out its season with a 16-3 record, capturing the program's fourth MIAA A crown.
"It's interesting, I usually write keys to the game and the last two games I just wrote a letter to the kids and talked about the journey. It's been a journey, it's been hard," said Calvert Hall 23rd-year coach Bryan Kelly, who noted this was his first championship win without Huntley.
Boys' Latin, which got two goals and two assists from sophomore Brendan Grimes, finished with a 14-5 mark. The Cardinals had a 40-22 advantage in shots, but Brandau finished with 10 saves to help keep the Lakers close.
"They got up on us early and we did a good job of battling back in the second quarter, but it was a couple goals here and a couple goals there," Boys' Latin coach Brian Farrell said. "I thought our guys battled the whole time and it was a hell of a effort by [Calvert Hall] — they're a really good team."
Leading 5-4 at halftime, the Cardinals scored the first three goals in the second half with Sawyer getting the lone goal in the third quarter and the Cardinals pulling away in the fourth with goals by Kelly and Mitchell. The Lakers made a final push in the final 2 minutes, getting goals by Basil Aburn and Ben Smith to create late-game suspense.
"We gave it all we had," Sawyer said. "Coming into this game, we had a hard week with Peter's father and we overcome that and knew he was with us — same with Coach Hunt — we won this for them and played our heart out."
Mitchell gave the Cardinals their biggest lead at 8-4 with 2:37 to play and it proved an important one with the Lakers' late rally.
"I think the mentality was just to play hard and really execute and take advantage of what we had. We got our looks and buried them," Mitchell said. "It's surreal, unbelievable."
The Lakers couldn't have asked for a better start, picking up where they left off from Tuesday's semifinal win over No. 1 McDonogh. Sophomore Payton Giberson won the opening faceoff cleanly and quickly found Grimes, who scored 7 seconds into play.
The Cardinals went on to control most of the first half with long possessions that often resulted in goals, including three straight in the second quarter with Sawyer making it 5-2 with 2:23 left. But the Lakers were able to strike quick again – Giberson finding Grimes on a goal 6 seconds later – and then Brenden Crouse scored his second goal of the game with 1:19 left in the quarter to cut Calvert Hall's lead to 5-4 at the break.
Both teams came into the championship game playing their best lacrosse of the season.
After falling to Boys' Latin, 8-5, on April 20, the Cardinals won their last five regular-season games and then scored 13 straight goals in a 15-9 semifinal win over No. 3 Loyola Blakefield on Wednesday to advance.
After beating Calvert Hall in the regular season, the Lakers were upset by Severn before rattling off five straight wins.
Included were two dominant wins in the postseason — an 11-5 win over No. 6 St. Mary's in the quarterfinals before knocking off McDonogh, 8-5, in Tuesday's semifinal.
Goals: BL — Grimes 2, Crouse 2 Aburn, Smith ;
CH — G. Mitchell 3, D. Kelly 2, Ilardo, Sawyer 2.
Assists: BL — Giberson 2, Grimes 2;
CH — J. Kelly 2, Sawyer, D. Kelly.
Saves: BL — C. Brandau 10;
CH — Darragh 6.
Half: CH, 5-4