The No. 1 Loyola Blakefield soccer team still has the season’s biggest goal in front of it with the playoffs starting next week.
But on Thursday night, celebrating their senior class in front of a raucous crowd under portable lights, the Dons shined to complete a remarkable regular-season accomplishment.
With a goal from senior Luke Briggs late in the first half and determined defense throughout, the Dons earned a 1-0 win over No. 9 Gilman to take a perfect mark into the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference postseason.
In a program first, Loyola Blakefield finished the regular season 17-0, going 16-0 in the area’s most demanding conference. The Dons earned a first-round bye and will host a semifinal game Thursday, Nov. 1.
Just how dominant were the Dons in taking first place?
In their 16 league wins, they outscored their opponents 54-8 (60-8 for the season, including a win over Pennsylvania-based Shipley School in the opener) and earned six straight shutouts.
“You can’t play it down,” Loyola coach Lee Tschantret said. “To go undefeated in this league, you need a little bit of luck, which we had — a couple games where we scored some late goals and had bounces go our way. But the boys have put in a lot of work, are committed to one another and they’re committed to playing our style of play and I think that’s been a key to the success so far.”
Gilman (13-5-2, 10-4-2) has presented the toughest challenge for the Dons this season, as Loyola needed to grind out a 1-0 win in both meetings.
On Thursday, the Greyhounds executed their game plan well early by winning balls in the middle of the field and immediately pushing forward. The visitors had several free kicks early and an ideal chance with 14:45 left until halftime when senior Logan Paff had time and space in front but sent a shot from 12 yards over the crossbar.
Soon after, the Dons got all the offense they would need. After senior Matt Lala got a firm shot on goal that had to be cleared off the goal line by a defender, the ball made its way to Briggs, who one-timed a shot into the net from 14 yards with 4:04 to play in the half.
The Dons defense, led by senior center back Ben Gallagher, took care of the rest. Paff had another chance with 2:15 to play, doing well to get a head on a corner kick but sending it wide.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the team as a whole,” said Gallagher, one of Loyola’s 16 seniors. “This was one of our toughest games of the year by far, where we had to really battle, and I’m just really proud of how we grinded through it today.
“It was really the whole team. They were down our throat a good part of the game and I’m just happy how we handled it. We persevered, never stopped defending wholeheartedly and that was the key.”
For the second time this season, Gilman mostly stayed on even terms against a team that most others haven’t been able to, only to leave the field frustrated with an inability to put away chances.
With their regular season complete, the Greyhounds (10-4-2, 32 points) still remain in second place but might have to settle for third if McDonogh (10-4-1, 31 points) can beat visiting Calvert Hall on Friday.
They go into the playoffs — a second place finish would secure an opening-round bye, while a third-place finish would put them in Monday’s quarterfinals — confident they can hang with the area’s top team.
“The effort was there and I felt we executed our game plan really well. They made a play and we didn’t and that was the difference in the game,” Gilman coach Jon Seal said. “As I said in the postgame huddle — the same all year — you can’t get too high after a win or too low after a loss. This was a tremendous atmosphere, a playoff atmosphere, and we have to learn from it and hopefully it doesn’t happen again because if it does, our season is over.”
Goals: LB — Briggs. Assists: LB — Lala. Saves: G — Farley 5; LB — Milmoe 3. Half: LB, 1-0