McDonogh's girls lacrosse players have excelled for years by keeping their minds off the big picture and staying focused on the next game.
After the No. 1 Eagles won their 198th straight game Wednesday by defeating No. 8 St. Paul's, 13-8, in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference semifinals, no one was talking about the streak.
But there's no denying the tradition helps.
"I feel like just because we've had a coaching change, we still have the culture of expecting a win every game," senior midfielder Maddie Jenner said. "That's not going to change just because Chris [Robinson] left even though he created that. … It gives us confidence, but we just can't think that we're entitled to every win, because that's when it can come back to hurt us."
Under new coach Nancy Love, an assistant coach with Robinson, the Eagles reached their 11th straight A Conference final and will go for their 10th straight title Friday at 7 p.m. at US Lacrosse headquarters in Sparks.
McDonogh (21-0) will meet No. 2 Notre Dame Prep in a rematch of last year's 12-9 title game. The Blazers (16-4) defeated No. 3 Glenelg Country, 7-5, in Wednesday's other semifinal.
Last week, they gave the Eagles their toughest game of the season, pushing them to overtime before Julia Hoffman's free-position goal won it, 11-10.
St. Paul's (10-6), which fell to McDonogh, 13-9, last month, stuck with McDonogh early in Wednesday's game while goalie Clare Boone made some terrific saves. A couple of Gators turnovers led to a 2-0 Eagles lead, but St. Paul's freshman Christina Gagnon answered with two goals to tie it with 7:49 left in the half.
In Monday's quarterfinal win over No. 7 St. Mary's, McDonogh already had a running clock at that point en route to a 19-4 win.
While Wednesday's game never got out of hand, fouls began to hurt the fifth-seeded Gators, who slipped past fourth-seeded Archbishop Spalding, 10-9, in Monday's quarterfinal.
Emma Tilson, Blair Pearre and Hoffman scored consecutive free-position goals to give the Eagles a 5-2 lead with 3:16 left in the half.
"In the beginning we kind of kept forcing it to goal and we were being kind of selfish on the offensive end," Pearre said, "and our defensive end kind of held us together through the first half. Then we picked it up in the second half and started scoring and taking [a bigger] lead."
The Gators never got closer than within two, although they stayed within striking distance until the final minutes of the game.
With 12:17 left, St. Paul's picked up its fourth yellow card and had to play man-down the rest of the game. A McDonogh yellow card — the Eagles' second of the game — made it all even for two minutes, but after that McDonogh scored three extra-man goals, finishing the game with six.
Still, the Gators kept attacking and Alex Pirisino scored three times in the final 6:12.
For a stretch of Eagles possession, St. Paul's coach Mary Gagnon pulled her goalie and played with 11 field players to try to force a turnover in the man-down situation, but McDonogh boosted its lead to 12-7 on Izzy Marsh's goal into the open net and Boone returned.
The Gators coach, who started five freshmen and three sophomores, praised her seniors, especially Boone and midfielder Darby Welsh, but said youth showed a little too often.
"To beat this team, you can't have any mistakes," Gagnon said. "They had second and third opportunities. We'd make saves, we'd make the play and give them two or three more opportunities or we'd get a yellow card and be man-down and they take advantage of that. They take advantage of all your mistakes."
Goals: SP—Gagnon 3, A.Pirisino 3, Scheffs, Esprit; M—Hoffman 4, Jenner 3, Pearre 3, Tilson, K.Robinson, Anderson. Assists: SP—Sawers. M—Hoffman 2, Anderson, Huddles, Marsh. Saves: SP—Boone 6, Foohey 2; M—Cooper 4. Half: M, 6-3.