By Nelson Coffin
Senior leadership is not a concept to be taken lightly.
Coaches rely on veteran savvy when the chips are down, and proof positive of that notion being true was made perfectly clear on Monday at McDonogh when Notre Dame Prep was on the verge of being the first A Conference lacrosse rival to beat the nine-time defending champions for the first time since John Carroll beat the Eagles, 11-6, in the 2008 title game.
It didn’t happen, mainly because senior attacker Julia Hoffman took charge in gut-check time, assisting on sophomore midfielder Emma Schettig’s tying goal with just over a minute remaining in regulation and netting the game-winner herself 2:24 into overtime to give the McDonogh a thrilling 11-10 victory over the Blazers in a rematch of last year’s title game.
Hoffman said that she just tried to stay calm during a game in which the score was tied six times and the lead changed hands three times in the second half.
Even though NDP senior midfielder Jordan Sabourin won the draw to open overtime, Hoffman said that she was confident in the Eagle defense.
“We knew we would get the ball back on offense,” the Maryland commit said.
Sure enough, the Blazers turned the ball over against McDonogh’s quick-sliding defense and possession went to the Eagles.
In a settled 7-on-7 offense, McDonogh (18-0, 12-0 conference) left it to their leading scorer to find a way to end the game, and she did by drawing a foul and then bouncing a shot from the 8-meter arc that eluded NDP goalie Vanessa Stamos (6 saves).
Hoffman’s other gutsy move came earlier in the second half when she ran past a couple of defenders to score a short-handed goal to give McDonogh its first lead with 19 minutes left in the first half.
Two minutes later, the Eagles buttressed the advantage on a goal by junior midfielder Blaire Pearre to go up, 8-6.
That’s when NDP senior attacker Caitlyn Mossman exploded for three goals in just over four minutes by rolling the crease and firing high-to-high shots past McDonogh senior goalie Julia Cooper to give the Blazers (13-4, 8-3) a 9-8 edge.
Cooper, however, exacted a measure of revenge when she stonewalled Mossman’s next offering and the Eagles netted the equalizer at the other end when Pearre buried a free position with under seven minutes to go.
NDP countered after a takeaway by senior defender Maddie Johnston, who then found freshman attacker Nancy Halleron in transition for a superb fastbreak finish and a 10-9 lead with 3:27 remaining.
Hoffman’s feed to Schettig the tied it, setting the stage for the Eagles’ first overtime since topping Century, 12-11, two years ago.
Coincidentally, the Eagles and the Knights from Carroll County will tangle on Thursday, the last game of a grueling stretch for McDonogh in which it defeated the Washington Post’s No. 1 (Bishop Ireton) and No. 6 (Our Lady of Good Counsel) teams and A Conference standouts NDP, Archbishop Spalding, Bryn Mawr and Glenelg Country School since April 16.
That lineup would give almost any coach high anxiety, especially one, like Nancy Love, in her first year after being a longtime assistant to former coach Chris Robinson.
Following in those footsteps is not for the fainthearted.
“The whole season has been nerve-wracking for me,” Love said.
NDP senior attacker Hannah Mardinay gave Love ample reason to get the jitters in Monday’s game when she scored three goals in an opening 4-1 run by the Blazers.
From that point, the Eagles, who have locked up the top seed in the playoffs and will have a bye into next Monday’s quarterfinal round, face-guarded the Florida signee with sophomore Ava Class doing most of the work. Mardinay had a few good looks after that, but never scored again.
McDonogh knotted the score on Hoffman’s first free position, a pretty left-handed turnaround by senior midfielder Maddie Jenner and a finish by junior attacker Lila Huddles.
Sophomore attacker/midfielder Liza Regan then scored back-to-back goals bridging the the first and second halves to put the Blazers ahead, 6-4, early in the final period.
Goals by Pearre and Schettig knotted the score, setting up a wild final 20 minutes of action.
“I think we were anxious early,” Love said. “But we kept chipping away and chipping away (at the NDP leads) We really kept our composure.”
“It’s a major disappointment, but the ball bounced their way a little bit there,” NDP coach Mac Ford said. “They wised up and started face-guarding (Mardinay), and she still got a couple of shots that didn’t go in. Mossman had a great second half. They doubled her on the last two possessions, and she’ll learn from that. But it was just a terrific game.”
The Blazers have one more league game against Severn on Wednesday, although they have locked up the third seed and a bye into the quarterfinal round of the playoffs.