Tough early-season matchups can provide valuable lessons for the important league games that follow, and the No. 1 McDonogh boys lacrosse team got one Wednesday against Indiana power Culver Academy.
The host Eagles surrendered the game's first four goals to the visitors and worked hard to eventually get even but didn't have anything left in the end. Culver controlled the fourth quarter with junior midfielder Jack Stevens scoring his third goal of the game in the final two minutes to secure a 12-9 win in Owings Mills.
It's the first loss for defending Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference champion McDonogh, which went into the game with a 4-0 mark and ranked No. 5 nationally by Inside Lacrosse. Culver, ranked No. 7 nationally, is 6-1.
The host Eagles got three goals each from Jack Simmons and Griffin Catlett but were never able to completely get over the hump, despite getting the game tied at 7 late in the third quarter.
"This is why we play games like this, to play a great program like Culver. They just kicked our butt all over the field. They pretty much won every phase of the game," McDonogh coach Andy Hilgartner said. "I give our guys some credit — they showed some resolve for fighting back being down 4-0 and tying the game. We needed some stops, we needed some possessions and we needed to convert … and at the end of the day, they just outplayed us."
Culver jumped on the Eagles' typically tidy defense from the start and methodically built their lead with William Clayton (three goals) the catalyst. He scored two of the game's first three goals.
When Simmons scored back-to-back goals 35 seconds apart early in the second quarter — cutting Culver's lead to 4-2 — it appeared the Eagles had settled in and were ready to make it a game. But Culver answered back with two quick goals to reclaim the four-goal advantage midway through the second quarter.
Despite a Culver goal coming eight seconds before the half, the Eagles chipped away. Finally getting the game tied at 7 didn't come easy. On the game-tying possession, the Eagles first got four shots off — two wide, another off the post and one turned away by Culver goalie Matthew Schmidt (eight saves) — before Jack Sweeney (one goal, two assists) finally broke through with 1:50 to play in the third quarter.
Just like the damaging late goal to end the first half, Culver reclaimed the lead when Clayton scored with 1.6 seconds left in the third quarter. Leading 9-8, Culver scored twice in 38 seconds to build an 11-8 lead with 7:06 left and was able to close out the win with possession in the closing minutes.
"We have dug ourselves a hole a little bit this year, and we just weren't engaged from the start," Hilgartner said. "Culver possesses the ball for long amounts of time — they are really good at that — we knew if we weren't going to be able to get steps, they were going to wear us down."
The Eagles will next host Washington power Bullis (6-0) at 4:30 p.m. Friday, looking to avenge their only loss from last season. After the Bulldogs claimed an 8-7 win on March 24, McDonogh rattled off 13 straight victories in winning the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference and finishing 18-1.
On Friday, Culver visits No. 5 St. Paul's (6-0) with game time set for 4:15 p.m. If the Crusaders win, coach Rick Brocato ties St. Paul's legendary coach George Mitchell for most career victories in program history at 232.