The No. 6 McDonogh boys soccer team played a strong first half in its regular-season finale Friday. It was enough to get past injury-riddled Calvert Hall, 2-1.
While the home win gave the defending Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference champions second place and a first-round bye in next week’s playoffs, the uneven performance that has been a problem for chunks of the season left concerns with the playoffs now here.
“I just told them, I think the team that showed up for the first 40 minutes can be in the conversation for a championship, but the team that was there in the second 40 minutes won’t even sniff it,” McDonogh coach Brandon Quaranta said. “So we’ve got a week to prepare for a home semifinal and hopefully we can do some work to make sure that we can take that first-half team and make it an 80-minute team.”
The MIAA A playoff picture is now complete. In Monday’s quarterfinal round, No. 14 Calvert Hall (10-8, 8-8 in league play) will visit No. 10 Archbishop Curley, while No. 9 Gilman hosts Mount Saint Joseph. No. 1 Loyola Blakefield and McDonogh (11-4-1, 11-4-1) will host semifinal games Thursday with the championship set for the following Sunday at Anne Arundel Community College.
After uncharacteristically losing four out of five games — the last a stunning 5-0 setback to Loyola on Monday — the Eagles bounced back with comfortable wins over Archbishop Spalding and John Carroll before taking on the Cardinals with the first-round bye on the line.
The Eagles scored 9:55 into play, getting a tap-in goal from Richie Nichols after Will Hopkins’ long throw was flicked to the far post by Kyle Brown. After withstanding some free kicks earned by the Cardinals, they made it 2-0 with 9:53 left in the half when Luke Davis won the right side and played a ball across for Mason Christian to put away from 12 yards.
The Cardinals, who are without four key contributors because of various injuries over the course of the season, kept working throughout and was able to make the final minutes interesting when Shein Allen scored with 3:43 to play. They had one final quality chance that wasn’t converted as the final whistle blew.
The inconsistent play at this point in the season was described as “alarming” by Quaranta, who hopes the team can use the extended training time to get things right before Thursday’s semifinal.
Senior captain Andrew Privett is confident the Eagles will be ready to play their best ball.
“We just need more intensity, get on guys and raise the tempo and make sure everybody is playing at the same level and don’t let it drop,” he said.
“We’re going to need everyone to buy in — the entire team from everyone starting to the last guy on the bench. Everybody needs to be on top of their game and believe in what we do to bring home a championship.”
Calvert Hall coach Rich Zinkand has a positive approach going into the Cardinals’ game against rival Curley on Monday.
After falling to the Friars, 5-1, in a home game Sept. 28, the Cardinals played them much tougher Tuesday in a 1-0 road loss. Friday’s loss was their fifth by one goal in league play.
“We’re battling and in games,” he said. “We would have liked to score that first goal earlier and made things even more interesting down the stretch. But, again, you got to love the desire and the heart to the last whistle.
“I’m excited to go over [to Curley] on Monday and see where we are. It’s playoff time, so now the backs are against the wall and there’s no tomorrow if you don’t come out on top.”
Goals: CH – Allan; M -- Nichols, Christian
Assists: CH – Christ; M – Brown, Davis
Saves: CH – Nattans 4; M – Baskett 2.
Half: M, 2-0