Many championship teams go wire-to-wire as No. 1. Several others, however, are forced to shake off early season losses and end up peaking at the right time.
For St. Mary’s, it was the latter.
The Saints (12-6) capped off an admirable and dominant postseason run on Friday night by knocking off top-seeded McDonogh 13-8 to take home the program’s first MIAA “A” championship since 1996.
Under the bright lights of JHU’s Homewood Field, face-off extraordinare Alex Woodall stepped up in the final game of his career, winning 19 of 25 with a whopping 13 groundballs. The High Point-bound senior started momentum and then whenever McDonogh would score, he’d stop the Eagles’ momentum by giving the Saints’ talented offense the ball back cleanly and quickly.
“Alex Woodall is the strongest kid in the school and he also happens to be the quickest,” said St. Mary’s head coach Ben Rubeor. “What I think the kid has done to change his game, he handles all sorts of pressure because every team we play throws everything they got at him. Toward the end of the season he was creating offense for us. That’s a kid who continues to get better – I think he was our most valuable player this year.”
New to such a big stage, It took the Saints some time to warm up, ending the first quarter with a 1-1 tie. McDonogh’s Connor Young scored his second straight goal just 24 seconds into the second quarter, but that would be the Eagles’ last lead of the game. A stout St. Mary’s defense (plus a stellar riding game) buckled down as the offense picked up steam, moving the ball with precision and scoring five unanswered goals. McDonogh could muster just three shots in the second quarter, as Woodall won 7-of-8 during that stretch to help the Saints to a comfortable 6-3 halftime lead.
“I don’t think [McDonogh] saw the ball much in the second quarter and I think that was important for us, our guys have never played on this type of stage,” Rubeor said. “Understandably, we might have been a little slow to start and we tried to basically use some timeouts early just to get them used to the atmosphere.”
St. Mary’s built a comfortable 8-3 lead early in the third stanza off of goals by seniors Bennett Johnson (Seton Hill) and Timmy Hardy (Villanova) with a much-needed offensive flurry by the Eagles to make it 8-5 then 9-6 after three quarters.
From there, the Saints continued to cruise, and the mighty crowd supporting the small Annapolis school could sense a lengthy title drought coming to an end. St. Mary’s kept their foot on the pedal, finishing the game out with a 13-8 victory, with goalie Timmy Troutner (the hero of Tuesday night) relatively untested and forced to make just four saves on the night.
The win was big for many reasons, but completed an extremely impressive late season turnaround. Many people felt that the Saints were down and out after an 18-8 loss to sub .500 Gilman less than three weeks ago. A crucial team meeting helped the team refocus and was the beginning of a six-game winning streak to end the season. After that loss, St. Mary’s responded by beating then top-ranked Loyola 14-10 then in the playoffs, topper the No. 6, No. 2 and No. 1 seeds to come out on top.
“We had a long talk [after that loss] and had to make some changes,” said game MVP Woodall. “We really just all committed to it and that was the perfect time because that was when we started the streak. It all worked out and we went all in.”
Bennett Johnson, Jake Carraway and Timmy Hardy all put up hat tricks, with two-way middie Griffin Giles and Jack Andrews finishing with three points. Freshman Sean Mooney pitched in a goal as well.
The senior-laden defense of Bryce Carrasco, Tommy Miller, Hunter Smith and Kevin Fox had another lights out performance. McDonogh leading scorer Robert Clark finished with an assist and no goals on three shots.