St. Mary's girls soccer coach Jerry Tobin may never be able to repay the debt he owes a certain airline pilot.
When the rest of his St. Mary's squad was taking the field against Mercy in their 4:30 p.m. Baltimore Catholic League tournament semifinal game at Patterson Park yesterday, Tobin's best player, stopper Laura Coakley, was about 15 miles away.
Coakley, a senior who is considered the league's best player by most coaches, was just stepping off an airplane at BWI Airport after a weekend visit to New York's Hofstra University.
Fortunately for the Saints, Coakley's flight was on time.
"She's the backbone of our team, and I'll be the first to admit that," said Tobin, whose team (now 15-2) eventually got three goals from sophomore Mo McDonough to win the game, 3-1. "I'd just like to thank the pilot personally for Laura's timely return."
But without Coakley, the No. 2-seeded Saints were taking a beating against Mercy (14-5-4).
Mercy, which had built 2-1 leads in each of its 3-2 earlier losses to the Saints, had bombarded St. Mary's junior goalkeeper Jenet Tadle (11 saves) with nine shots -- including three corner kicks -- while St. Mary's couldn't muster a shot.
To its credit, the Saints' defense of senior Kathy Green, junior Liz McGonagle and Coakley's sophomore replacement Meredith Kennedy held Mercy's high-scoring offense of Robyn Depasquale (14 goals, nine assists), Allison Olkowski (13, nine), Sherry Bossle (10, six) and Erin O'Malley (six, five) scoreless for the first half.
"Stressful, very stressful," said McGonagle of the experience. "It was a very tough job, but somebody had to do it."
An anxious Coakley, wearing a Hofstra sweat shirt, finally arrived 12 minutes into the game.
"I thought the game was at 5:30. I had totally forgot," said Coakley. "I was lucky that my flight arrived on time, but there was one part of (Route) 295 where I started seeing brake lights. I got nervous, but I couldn't wait to get here."
Coakley stepped in and made an immediate impact.
She pushed up hard in the midfield and registered her team's first shot on goal. After a near-miss by teammate Randall Goldsborough, Coakley's penetration helped set up the Saints' first goal.
Taking the ball to the right corner and even with the far post, Coakley launched a 12-yard shot that was tipped up against the crossbar, caught and then dropped by Mercy goalie Dawn McDermott.
McDonough (23 goals, seven assists) used her body to chase the ball into the goal before McDermott could regroup.
Less than a minute into the second half, McDonough capitalized on a teammate's stolen pass at the tap-off. McDonough received the ball near the top of the box, beat two defenders to a space about 10 yards out on the right side and placed a hard, low shot past McDermott.
McDonough's third goal came on a similar play from closer in, but this time the ball deflected off of McDermott and into the near corner of the net.
"When (Laura Coakley) showed up, it was a relief," said McDonough.
"After that, we had everything together and really had it going good."