By Nelson Coffin
McDonogh coach Nancy Love did not blink when asked if Notre Dame Prep might have at least a psychological advantage when the teams meet for the A Conference crown on Friday night at US Lacrosse’s Tierney Field in Sparks.
After all, in the rivals’ most recent meeting on April 30, the Eagles had to scratch and claw their way to an 11-10 overtime victory over the Blazers.
Love said that it would be difficult to figure out what the third-seeded Blazers’ mindset would be for the much-anticipated rematch of last year’s finale.
“We just have to prepare for NDP as best we can,” she said.
In order to advance to its 11th straight final and third against the Blazers, McDonogh first had to take care of business against fifth-seeded St. Paul’s School for Girls while NDP eliminated second-seeded Glenelg Country School, 7-5, in Wednesday’s semifinal round.
The Eagles had a stiff test against the Gators, prevailing, 13-8, to run their national-record winning streak to 198 games.
“We’re gritty and young,” St. Paul’s coach Mary Gagnon said. “We believe in ourselves, and we were right there. But we gave them too many chances, and if you do that, they make you pay.”
McDonogh (21-0) struggled in the early going to pull away, primarily because St. Paul’s senior goalie Clare Boone made five of her game-high seven saves during that span.
McDonogh junior midfielder Blair Pearre said that the Eagles weren’t playing as a team while they had difficulty solving Boone.
“We were playing a little more selfishly than we normally do,” she said.
The nine-time defending A Conference champs started well when senior center Maddie Jenner converted a feed from senior attacker Rachel Anderson for the game’s first goal and senior attacker Julia Hoffman placed a shot that bounced off a pipe and caromed off Boone into the net for a 2-0 advantage.
The Gators (10-6) bounced back, however, on a pair of goals by freshman midfielder Christina Gagnon to tie the score with just under eight minutes left in the first half.
Sophomore Emma Tilson put McDonogh back on top before Pearre and Hoffman completed a 3-0 run that was interrupted by freshman attacker Maddie Scheffs’ crease roll for a score.
Hoffman netted her third goal of the half with 27 seconds remaining in the period for a 6-3 advantage.
Jenner and yet another Gator freshman, Esprit Cha, traded goals to open the second half, followed by Hoffman’s fourth goal and Gagnon’s third to keep the three-goal margin, at 8-5, intact.
It was at that pivotal point when Pearre notched back-to-back goals to establish a 10-5 cushion and a fourth yellow card on St. Paul’s with over 12 minutes remaining gave the Eagles an extra-man advantage for most of the remainder of the game.
Five minutes later, McDonogh freshman Kemper Robinson took advantage of the situation to make it 11-5.
Undaunted, sophomore midfielder Alex Pirisino scored three shorthanded goals in the latter stages for the Gators while Anderson and Jenner countered for the Eagles.
Love said that the physical nature of the game did not deter the Eagles.
“The game got a little rough,” she said. “We could’ve been distracted, but we stayed with our game plan.”
As for the upcoming showdown with the Blazers, Pearre said that it won’t be easy.
“They’re a great team,” she said. “They have a lot of depth and speed, but if we put the ball in the back of the net like we can, we should be able to win.”