McDonogh's No. 1 girls lacrosse team didn't finish its season with a perfect game, but the end result still added up to perfection, especially for the senior class.
The Eagles rallied from four goals down to beat St. Paul's, 11-8, Monday afternoon to put the finishing touch on a 22-0 season with their fifth straight Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference championship.
The 17 McDonogh seniors did not lose a game during their high school careers as the Eagles ran their winning streak to 91 games, the country's longest active girls lacrosse streak and the third longest in history behind the record of 103 set by Loch Raven in 1982 and matched by Mount Hebron in 2007.
"It's amazing. There's nothing like it," Eagles senior defender Maggie Preas said. "Being down and being able to come back is really a great feeling. It's pretty awesome to be able to say that we worked our hardest and we didn't ever lose."
No. 4 St. Paul's, which hadn't been in the title game since defeating McDonogh for the 2006 championship, made the Eagles work as hard as they had all season. After Amanda Sutor and Paige Aldave scored the first two goals of the second half, the Gators (13-5) led 8-4 at Notre Dame Prep's Yeardley Love Field.
"St. Paul's played amazing," Eagles senior attacker Sammie Burgess said. "They came out ready and it took us a while to get going. I think the key is we never gave up and the experience from the rest of the season helped us today, because if we hadn't been down in other games, we wouldn't have reacted the way we did today."
The Eagles came back to beat a few tough opponents this season, including Vero Beach, Fla. and No. 5 Century. Monday the momentum started to shift their way when Casey Black and Elizabeth George scored back-to-back goals within 24 seconds. George's goal came straight off the draw as the Eagles won six of the last seven draw controls.
Burgess then scored three straight times to give the Eagles their first lead, 9-8, with 6:44 to go. Twice she scored after the ball came loose behind the crease and she gained a step on the defender who challenged for the ground ball. Megan Whittle made it 10-8 just 25 seconds later when George fed her off the draw.
"It was amazing persistence for our kids, because they really could have crumbled under the pressure," said Eagles coach Chris Robinson whose team has not lost since April 2009. "We were not getting any 50-50 balls, any breaks going our way. It seemed like a lot of the flow was against us and St. Paul's was playing great, but we got that little ray of light and just exposed it. A big part of it was our depth. Towards the last 15 minutes of the game we were fresh. We could get to the ground balls and the draw controls and I think that wore on St. Paul's a little bit."
Early on, the Gators stifled an Eagles attack that came into the game averaging 16.2 goals. Although they played well on defense and goalie Carrera Lucas finished with eight saves, the Gators dominated early with draw control, winning eight of the first 11, and a patient settled attack.
"Every game, we try to go out and play as a team, spread out, move the ball quick," said senior midfielder Sutor, who led the Gators with four goals and two assists. "We knew they were going to send doubles, so we tried to pass the ball before the double got to us and always be a threat."
Coach Brooke Kuhl-McClelland's Gators found a lot of openings early as Sutor, Shelby Wells and Aldave scored the first three goals of the game. After George put McDonogh on the board, Sutor scored on a free-position goal and then fed Wells for a 5-1 lead.
The Gators held onto the momentum until the final 15 minutes when the Eagles started chipping away at the 8-4 margin.
Even though they couldn't hold off the Eagles, the Gators came a long way from last year's 8-9 record.
"We're unsatisfied until we win a championship and that didn't happen," senior attacker Haley McDonnell said, "but we brought back a lot of pride this year. We came here to win, did what we could and I guess could have played better, but as far as the overall season goes, it was a big turnaround from last year."
For the Eagles, who send 14 of their seniors off to play college lacrosse, the victory polished off a season in which they have been ranked No. 1 from the beginning in the Nike/US Lacrosse High School Girls Lacrosse National Top 25.
They almost certainly will end up the No. 1 team in the country for the fourth straight season. This spring, they beat six of the other teams ranked in the national Top 25.
Eleven of their wins came over teams currently ranked in The Baltimore Sun's Top 15 -- two over the Gators, who are ranked 12th nationally, including McDonogh's 12-7 win in the A Conference opener March 19.