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McDonogh beats Gilman, 10-7, to claim final spot in MIAA A lacrosse playoffs

McDonogh beats Gilman, 10-7, to claim final spot in MIAA A lacrosse playoffs
McDonogh's Riley Mitchell, left, shoots against Gilman's Michael Brittingham in the fourth quarter. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

The sixth and final spot in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference lacrosse playoffs came down to a winner-take-all game on the regular season’s last day Tuesday: No. 5 Gilman at No. 7 McDonogh.

Two distinct storylines were in play.

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Could the visiting Greyhounds pull out a win to give their retiring coach Brooks Matthews at least one more game to plan for?

Or would the host Eagles, who opened league play with four straight losses, complete their improbable run with a sixth straight win to advance to the postseason?

McDonogh wouldn’t be denied.

The Eagles broke open a close game with a dominant third quarter, getting a three-goal, one-assist performance from Scott Cole and two goals and two assists from Liam Powderly to claim a 10-7 win over the Greyhounds and continue their season.

Shortly after the victory, McDonogh coach Andy Hilgartner was joyously greeted by a pack of Eagles. He told them: “We’ve won six straight. What’s three more?”

McDonogh (12-4) finished the regular season 6-4 in the MIAA, earning the sixth seed and the right to travel to third-seeded Boys’ Latin in Friday’s quarterfinal round. Gilman finished 9-7 and 5-5 in league play with Matthews closing a 15-year career with a 149-96 mark and league titles in 2009 and 2011.

Gilman lacrosse coach Brooks Matthews, right, hugs senior player Josh Ettlinger after his last game as coach on Tuesday.
Gilman lacrosse coach Brooks Matthews, right, hugs senior player Josh Ettlinger after his last game as coach on Tuesday. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

After stellar nonconference play led the Eagles to a 6-0 mark going into league play, they stunningly dropped four straight. Each win since was a must to qualify for the playoffs.

“Basically we’ve been in the playoffs — we put ourselves in that hole,” Hilgartner said. “I credit all our seniors. They were amazing in just kind of keeping the guys doing the little things right every day. And I absolutely love going out on the field with these guys every day, and that was my biggest fear coming into today, that I wouldn’t have a chance to be with them again. So whatever happens, I’m incredibly proud of our team.”

The Eagles made sure to have practice Wednesday with a dominant third quarter that started with faceoff specialist Gable Braun’s work on draws. Leading 4-2 at the break, he won five straight draws, and the Eagles made the most of their possessions. Cole scored the first two goals and Matt Hilgartner (two goals, one assist) and Dane Swanson increased the lead to 8-2 with 5:33 left in the third quarter.

The lead was 10-3 to start the fourth quarter with the Greyhounds, who got three goals from Logan Paff and two goals and an assist from Dutch Furlong to go with 12 saves from goalie Noah Klein, playing hard to the end with three straight goals in Matthews’ final quarter of coaching.

“I have to say Brooks Matthews has had an amazing career at Gilman,” Hilgartner said. “He has so much character in the way he coaches and the way he leads his team. They’ve been really successful and he’s done it the right way. Just a great guy, so I congratulate him on an incredible career.”

The opposite ends of the field were a mixed bag of emotions after the game.

Powderly, one of the McDonogh’s senior leaders, spoke of life lessons he’s learned from the Eagles’ season.

“I think it was definitely tough to be 0-4. We had a tough draw with really hard teams right off the bat and obviously we would have liked to have a couple wins,” he said. “But the fact that we were able to come together as a unit even when we were literally at the lowest point possible, it’s just something that I feel is special.

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“It goes way beyond the lacrosse field. In life, you’re going to have challenges and have your ups and downs, and the fact of the matter is you can’t put your head down, no matter if you lose one, lose two, lose three … You just got to keep going and keep grinding.”

At the other end, the Gilman players took turns giving hugs and words of thanks to Matthews, who announced this would be his final season in November. He said he felt terrible for his seniors and told them how proud he was that they gave him everything he asked and more, both on and off the field.

“This is about the relationships you build with kids and coaches, but mostly for them among themselves and their peers and their teammates,” Matthews said. “The commitment they make to a sport like lacrosse around here is tremendous. There’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears that goes into it. They’ve done a great job and what I tell them a lot is when you invest a lot into something it hurts even more, but that what life is. You want to invest a lot because you want it to mean something.”

Klein, who closed out his high school career, is appreciative of Matthews’ impact on the program.

“He has definitely been a staple, and if anyone represents Gilman, it’s Coach Matthews,” he said. “He knows there’s more to life than lacrosse. He kinds of pounds honor, integrity, respect, excellent, humility — the Gilman five — and he embodies that on and off the field.

“He’s a fantastic coach, [won a] couple MIAA championships, so he’s meant a lot to the program.”

While McDonogh travels to Boys’ Latin, fourth-seeded St. Paul’s will visit third-seeded Loyola Blakefield on Friday.

Two-time defending league champion and top seed Calvert Hall and second seed St. Mary’s earned byes and advanced to next Tuesday’s semifinal round.

Goals: G – Paff 3, Godine, Andrews, Furlong 2; M – Cole 3, Powderly 2, Swanson, Hilgartner 2, McMillen, Mitchell. Assists: G – King 2, Godine 2, Furlong; M – Cole, Hilgartner, Mitchell, Powderly 2. Saves: G – Klein 13; M – Long 10, Scarborough 1. Half: M, 4-2

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