by Derek Toney
After a 12-month interruption to one of the greatest runs in Baltimore prep sports history, McDonogh reclaimed the A Conference lacrosse championship Saturday with a breathtaking 5-4 double overtime victory over St. Paul’s School for Girls at Gerstell Academy.
Junior attacker Izzy Marsh’s goal with 15 seconds remaining in the second overtime was the “Golden Ticket” for McDonogh (21-0 overall), which won its 10th IAAM A title in 11 seasons. The Eagles’ run of nine straight championship and historic 198-game winning streak was ended in last year’s IAAM A final by Notre Dame Prep.
“We’ve been looking forward to this season since last season’s end,” said Marsh. “We worked hard to get into shape in the preseason then build and keep getting better, having that angle of what we wanted to accomplished.
It happened after overcoming a two-goal deficit in the final five minutes of regulation before finally solving the puzzle that was St. Paul’s goalie Leah Wareheim.
Wareheim, a sophomore transfer from Gerstell Academy, stopped 12 shots and had McDonogh flustered the entire match. She single-handedly had the Gators on the cusp of their first IAAM A crown since 2006.
But like in the regular season match when McDonogh overcame a 5-1 halftime deficit to beat St. Paul’s (13-10) in double overtime in Brooklandville, the Eagles dug to the earth’s core Saturday to fight back.
“I think she could’ve stood on her head and she would have saved it,” said McDonogh coach Taylor Cummings of Wareheim. “She was on fire.”
McDonogh notched two first-half scores from Kayla Abernathy, but it was all Wareheim and St. Paul’s, which scored four unanswered goals - the last from Caroline Pearce - for a 4-2 advantage with 7:24 remaining in regulation. That score followed a Wareheim free-position stop on Blaire Pearre.
Pearre was able to unleash her next opportunity high past Wareheim, bringing the Eagles to within 4-3 with 4:14 left in regulation.
The Gators lost the ball near midfield and McDonogh turned it into a fastbreak as Emma Schettig handled a pass from Pearre and slipped a shot low past Wareheim, tying the game with 1:48 left in regulation.
“We started doing the little things, riding them harder, picking up the ground balls, doubling them on defense,” said Schettig. “All the little things started connecting in the last eight minutes.”
McDonogh won the ensuing the draw, but Wareheim stopped Schettig’s off-balance attempt with 25 seconds left.
St. Paul’s made a final run, but Alex Pirsino’s shot was captured by McDonogh keeper Olivia Keoghan at the end of regulation.
The Eagles gained possession to start the first three-minute overtime, but were unable to get a shot on goal before the buzzer. St. Paul’s won possession at the start of the second OT only to turn the ball over.
Wareheim then stopped a tough quick turnaround shot attempt by Abernathy. After nearly turning the ball over and with McDonogh pressuring them on the ride, the Gators called timeout with 1:07 left in the second extra session.
St. Paul’s advanced downfield, and Espirit Cha’s attempt landed in the front of the goal where the Eagles took possession.
That's when McDonogh freshman Caroline Godine found Marsh coming from behind the goal.
Marsh faked Wareheim and put the ball in the far side, setting off a wild celebration by a horde of McDonogh students that paused as Wareheim was tended to by athletic training personnel for an injured shoulder.
Once game officials signaled the goal good after a stick-check, McDonogh finally exorcised the memory of last year’s championship game loss.
“This has been the goal in the back of their mind all year. We really started talking about winning the championship after Wednesday,” said Cummings. “They’ve had grit and determination all year. Having been down before this year helped us because they were calm, cool and collected. They knew what what to do.”
The end was both fitting and bitter for St. Paul’s, which knocked off 2018 champ Notre Dame Prep and the tournament’s No. 2 seed Glenelg Country School in double OT earlier in the week.
It was the Gators’ sixth one-goal loss of the season and seventh overtime battle.
“I’m just so proud of this team. All 24 of them,” said Gators coach Mary Gagnon, who got two goals from Alex Pirsino. “The energy on the sideline, every single one gave their heart and soul. We didn’t get that one last break that we needed today, but we battled all the way down to the last shot.”
The victory also assures McDonogh a 10th mythical national championship in 11 seasons. The Eagles have won 219 of their last 220 decisions.
“I’m in awe. It was awesome,” said McDonogh senior Julia Dorsey. “It was ugly, but we did it.”