On Tuesday, the Loyola Blakefield lacrosse team did well to largely take away Calvert Hall's biggest strength — its formidable attackmen.
But the host Cardinals have other strengths, including their balance.
Taking what was given, the Cardinals leaned on their opportunistic midfielders, who finished with nine goals, and Calvert Hall scored the final six goals to close the regular season with a 10-4 win over the No. 3 Dons.
Second place and a first-round bye in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference playoffs were on the line, and the defending champions seized the moment. Sophomore midfielder Cole Herbert (three goals, one assist) and junior midfielder Jack Sawyer (three goals) shared the lead role on attack, while senior goalie Liam Darragh made seven saves.
The Cardinals (14-3) finish with an 8-2 league mark and head to the semifinals set for Tuesday at Towson University's Johnny Unitas Stadium. The Dons (13-5) are 7-3 in conference play and will host a quarterfinal Friday.
After Loyola Blakefield got a goal from senior Liam Bateman to open the second half and tie the game at 4 with 7:35 left in the third quarter, the Cardinals responded with the final six goals of the game. Junior midfielder Grant Mitchell (two goals) scored the go-ahead goal with 4:48 left, and Herbert followed with his three goals.
The Cardinals recognized that the Dons weren't sliding away from their attack, so coach Bryan Kelly was pleased to see quicker movement with the ball and a better pace in the second half, with his midfielders taking advantage.
"It was excellent. I think these guys have been working on how to dodge hard, and they did a nice of getting the ball out of their stick faster, and that opens things up for them," he said. "I always tell the guys, it's going to be someone different. Sometimes they may try to take this guy away or this guy, and we're going to have to adjust. I thought the kids made good adjustments today."
Said Herbert: "Our starting six, everybody can dodge as well as the next, and it's just pick your poison. Whoever they want to focus on, when they shut one guy down, the next will step up each game."
The Cardinals, who closed the regular season with five straight wins, will be rested with more time to prepare and needing just two victories in their bid for a second straight championship.
Tueaday's game had a playoff vibe, and they responded well and were rewarded.
"I think it's always good to have the bye, especially in this league, because the sixth team is just as good as the No. 1 seed," Kelly said. "So you have your hands [full] in every game, and you're just thankful. It's more than just the rest, but then you get to play in the semis, which is a great honor. This senior class has done some good things, so hopefully we could keep it rolling."
The Dons will rely on their senior class, led by captains Bateman, Alex Reid and Andrew Florenzo, in their bid to win a championship. Coach Ben Rubeor said the team will make some minor adjustments going into Friday's playoff opener, mostly on an attack that wasn't as sharp as it needed to be Tuesday.
"The goal stays the same, which is [to] get better each day and be ready to win on Friday," Rubeor said. "I think we have a good senior class who has worked hard all year. I know they really want this thing and I know they'll put in the required effort. So I believe in these guys, and we'll have to come out on Friday and play some good lacrosse."
Goals: LB — Bateman, Dunn, J. Koras, Reid; CH — Sawyer 3, Herbert 3, G. Mitchell 2, J. Kelly, Ewing. Assists: LB — Hume; CH — Connelly, Swain, D. Kelly, Long. Saves: LB — Lorber 5; CH — Darragh 7. Half: CH, 4-3