The stakes were the same. The scenario late in the game was eerily similar. The end result, unfortunately for the Archbishop Spalding girls’ soccer team, was different.
In a rematch of last year’s Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference final, the Cavaliers couldn’t overcome a late deficit to repeat as champions against McDonogh, falling 2-1 to the Eagles in an aggressively battled match at Anne Arundel Community College on November 2.
It was the fifth-consecutive meeting in the IAAM A final between Spalding (13-3-1, 9-1 in conference) and McDonogh (15-2-2, 9-1 in conference), with the Cavaliers winning in 2009 and 2012. In last year’s title game, the Cavaliers’ Kelly Patterson scored a late goal to force overtime, and goalkeeper Cassidy Babin’s two saves allowed Spalding to take the title on penalty kicks.
This year’s edition likewise brought an intensity befitting the two archrivals. Early, McDonogh’s best defense was its unrelenting offense. The Eagles held the ball in their attacking half for most of the first 40 minutes and took a lead in the 20th minute on Anna Bialczak’s curling left-footed strike into the top-right corner of the net from 25 yards out. As heavy rains moved over the AACC stadium field, McDonogh senior Casey Martinez padded the McDonogh lead by sticking a penalty kick in first-half stoppage time after the referee spotted a hand ball in the Spalding box.
The 2-0 deficit, daunting as it was against a McDonogh team that had surrendered only two goals in 18 games entering the title match, lit a fire under Spalding, which began pressing hard for a score in the second period.
Chances came in spurts and opened the door for the Eagles to counter, and Spalding would have been buried beyond hope if not for the superhuman goalkeeping efforts of Babin. The senior came off her line in the 60th minute to stuff Bialczak on a breakaway, pushing her blistering shot over the bar. Babin made dazzling saves diving to her left and right to save shots by Martinez and Bridgette Andrzejewski respectively as the half wore on, and she totaled 11 saves in all.
A foul in the box awarded Spalding a penalty kick in the 76th minute, which Sarah Martin punched in confidently to cut McDonogh’s lead in half.
Chances by Julia Heck on the left side and Sarah Ensor on the right, the latter of which drew a save from McDonogh keeper Lindsey Clark, couldn’t pull the Cavs level, and the Eagles killed the clock to win their third title in four years.
For first-year Spalding coach Ashly Kennedy, the loss doesn’t taint an otherwise productive season.
“I am so proud of them because they’ve listened, they’ve executed the way I’ve asked, but they’ve done it for each other too, and that’s really important,” said Kennedy. “We’ve really built a cohesion together, and we’ve gotten better and better throughout the season.”
Having lost 12 seniors from last year’s championship team, Martin, though naturally disappointed by the result, said even getting back to the title game was an impressive feat.
“I’m just so proud of everyone because everyone worked so hard,” Martin said. “It really doesn’t matter if we win or lose because everybody just worked hard, and that’s what matters.”
An emotional Babin applauded the growth of every member of the team in helping bring the Cavs back to the title game, adding that facing a rival like McDonogh is what the players live for, no matter the result.
“Every single player, not just our starting lineup, they just contributed so much to get us where we are today,” said Babin. “I have the utmost confidence in them for next year…We definitely like the pressure. We love competing against McDonogh. It’s a big rivalry and we love playing against them. It’s always been like this. It’s always been us in the final. We gave it our all today, and I’m very proud of that.”
McDonogh coach Harry Canellakis spoke highly of his program’s primary adversary.
“They’re our rival,” he said. “They’ve always been not only the most competitive team we play on a regular basis, but also the games that show the most emotion, and tonight was a perfect example of that. I was saying before that championship games are always close, but especially McDonogh-Spalding championship games. They’ve always been a very competitive group, and they were well-coached, so it’s really an honor to play them year after year.”