The Archbishop Spalding girls soccer team knew it would take 80 minutes of committed play to beat visiting Notre Dame Prep on Wednesday.
In the midst, senior forward Fifi Iluyomade provided one impeccable touch and finish.
In a competitive game during which every ball was challenged, Iluyomade managed to find just enough time and space to put away a first-half chance.
From there, the No. 2 Cavaliers leaned on a mix of tidy defense and strong possession to come away with a 1-0 win over the No. 7 Blazers in Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference play.
Spalding improved to 9-0-1 overall and 5-0 in the IAAM, while Notre Dame Prep (6-1, 4-1) fell for the first time. The Cavaliers will visit No. 1 and defending league champion McDonogh (9-0-1, 6-0) at 4:30 p.m. next Wednesday in a battle for first place.
The fast pace and intensity in the early minutes of Wednesday’s game made it apparent it would take a special effort for an offensive breakthrough.
Iluyomade provided it in the 22nd minute.
Inside the penalty area, she settled a ball sent in by Ella Bjorn and went to work, scoring her team-high 11th goal of the season with a shot from 14 yards that beat NDP senior goalie Alyssa Minnick.
“When I got the ball, I turned around and saw [a defender] there and knew if I tried to shoot it, she would have blocked it,” said Iluyomade. “So I took a quick touch the other way because I knew she would run past me if I cut it the other way. NDP is such a good team and we have a rivalry with them, so it was amazing to score that goal and felt really good.”
Spalding coach Ashly Kennedy has come to expect such moments from Iluyomade.
“Fifi is that player who in a slight second can change a game,” Kennedy said. “The composure and sophistication she has in front of the goal is one of the reasons why she’s a leading goal scorer in the conference.”
The Blazers had some quality minutes with the ball, but no sustained attacks as the Cavaliers didn’t break down in the final third of the field. Senior back Abby Hanks, playing the right side, stood out with persistent two-way play, while center backs Jessica Wallace and Hannah Williams, filling in for senior captain Abby Jeanneault, stood their ground. Senior goalie Jill Savageau made three saves.
Minnick had a fine performance for NDP with 11 saves.
“Spalding was more aggressive to the ball. They just wanted it,” NDP coach Val Teixeira said. “We tried to keep possession, but we couldn’t put together more than three passes. They got one opportunity … and it cost us a goal. But I’m proud of my girls, they worked hard, they battled and we just have to keep our heads up and continue to work.”
Goals: S — Iluyomade. Assists: S — Bjorn. Saves: NDP — Minnick 11; S — Savageau 3. Half: S, 1-0