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Breaking down the MIAA A Conference lacrosse playoffs: Can anyone stop No. 1 Calvert Hall?

Can anybody stop the No. 1 Calvert Hall lacrosse team from claiming an unprecedented third straight Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship? That’s the biggest question as the league playoffs kick off with quarterfinal round play Friday.

The top-seeded Cardinals and second-seeded St. Mary’s earned first-round byes before Tuesday’s semifinals at Towson University’s Johnny Unitas Stadium. The championship game will be there next Friday.

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Here's a closer look at the top two seeds and Friday's quarterfinal matchups:

Top seeds

Calvert Hall (14-1, 10-0)

Throughout league play, the two-time defending champions continued to improve and further separate themselves from the rest of the pack, finishing 10-0 and going into the postseason as clear favorites to win an unprecedented third straight crown. Closing the regular season with a 16-3 win over Loyola Blakefield on Tuesday, the Cardinals had a seven-goal winning margin over the other five playoff teams. They are stacked at every position with a dominant midfield anchored by Grant Mitchell and Cole Herbert. The attack is precise and balanced with Jack Sawyer, Daniel Kelly and Truitt Sunderland and goalie Jackson Marshall is strong in the cage. The Cardinals will take on the St. Paul’s-Loyola Blakefield winner in Tuesday’s semifinal round.

St. Mary’s (11-5, 8-2)

The Saints have proven to be resilient, winning their last three games to wrap up the second bye with an 8-2 league mark. Attackman Ian Krampf and long-stick midfielder BJ Burlace are the senior catalysts that set a grinding tone. They have plenty of help with a number of three- and four-year varsity players, including attackman Garrett Nilsen, and midfielders Scout Ripley and Alex Wicks. Goalie Wes Schmidt has stepped up in big moments. Gutsy road wins against Boys’ Latin and St. Paul’s early in league play set a positive tone. The Saints will have a significant challenge in Tuesday’s semifinal round, waiting on the McDonogh-Boys’ Latin winner.

Friday’s quarterfinals

McDonogh (11-4, 6-4) at Boys’ Latin (10-6, 7-3)

Time: 4:15 p.m.

Outlook: Friday marks the 14th time the teams have met in the postseason since 1999 and the fifth straight year with Boys’ Latin beating McDonogh in last year’s semifinals. After Calvert Hall, no team has played better and with more urgency than the Eagles, who recovered from an 0-4 league start to win their last six games — clinching the sixth and final playoff spot with a 10-7 win against Gilman on Tuesday. Boys’ Latin, which has won four of its last five to snag the third seed, was the last team to beat McDonogh — claiming an 11-10 road win April 9. The Eagles have been in playoff mode for a while now, so the Lakers could use a fast start on their home field to neutralize momentum. Game-changing players will be all over the field. McDonogh has Liam Powderly and Matt Hilgartner on attack, a decided edge on faceoffs with Gable Braun, and goalie Evan Long has been consistent in the cage. For the Lakers, attackman Dom Pietramala has enjoyed a fine freshman season and has shown an ability to take over games. He’s joined by Cam Spencer and Ben Smith up front with Reagan McNemar and Blake Gable standouts on defense. Loyola Blakefield was the last sixth seed to win the league championship in 2013. Can red-hot McDonogh be next?

St. Paul’s (10-4, 6-4) at Loyola Blakefield (9-5, 6-4)

Time: 4:15 p.m.

Outlook: This game is at Loyola based on its 6-5 win at St. Paul’s last Friday. The Dons jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first half, saw the Crusaders rally to take a one-goal lead before Jack Koras tied the game and Kevin Tucker won it with 1:41 left. Goalie Kevin Ellington was sensational in the win, particularly in the first half, as he finished with 13 saves. If either team plans to make a significant playoff run, a higher gear has to be found. The Crusaders were rolling along, taking a 6-1 league mark into a showdown game at Calvert Hall on April 30 and fell behind 15-2 at the half in a 16-6 setback. It was the start of a three-game slide. The Dons know the feeling as they closed with a demoralizing 16-3 loss to the Cardinals on Tuesday. Koras has been Loyola’s catalyst all season with midfielders Tucker, Chase Llewellyn and Alex Breschi also key contributors. Ellington provides confidence in back. After the loss to Loyola, St. Paul’s coach Trey Whitty noted his team’s lack of fundamentals so expect the Crusaders to be paying closer attention to the small details. Attackmen Andrew Milani and Troy Barthelme boost the offense and Mason Woodward is one of the league’s top defensemen in front of goalie Jamie Grant. Calvert Hall awaits the winner.

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