BALTIMORE - When St. Mary's defender Liz McGonagle missed her penalty kick late in the first half, John Carroll fans breathed a collective sigh of relief and St. Mary's fans one of disbelief.
The shot, which caromed off the upper corner of the goal to keeper Karin Olsen's left, came at a crucial time, with the Patriots already trailing the Saints, 1-0, in Wednesday's Baltimore Catholic League championship game.
"It sort of deflated our kids," said St. Mary's coach Jerry Tobin. In the last meeting between the two teams, a 4-3 victory for the Saints, McGonagle's penalty kick was successful for a 2-0 halftime lead.
This time, the effect of the miss was the exact inverse for the Patriots, who responded with a five-goal second half barrage for a 5-1 victory and an unprecedented fourth tournament title for 8th-year John Carroll coach Joe Rehrmann.
"I'm extremely proud of this team," said Rehrmann, whose Patriots (12-2-3) also beat the Saints, 2-1, for last year's tournament title after finishing as the regular season runner-up to the Saints.
St. Mary's (15-3), which finished as the tournament runner-up for the third straight season, tied the Patriots for this year's regular season title.
Sophomores Katie Nietubicz (six goals, five assists), Amy Dean and Amity Torbit (11 goals, five assists) scored the Patriots first goals in the second half. Senior scoring leader Carrie Stallings (12 goals, one assist) and senior Hollie Montague tallied to pad the win.
Nietubicz pounced on an opportunity in the fourth minute of the second half for the game-tying goal, 1-1. Stallings battled Saints keeper Jenet Tadle for the ball on the right side and five yards from the goal mouth.
When the ball rolled free, Nietubicz was there to knock it into an unprotected net.
Dean also capitalized on a defensive mistake by Tadle, who caught, then dropped a crossing pass from Torbit that Dean put away from in close in the seventh minute.
The third goal came in the 14th minute when Torbit ran under a through pass from the midfield and beat several defenders to put her low shot into near corner to Tadle's right.
Torbit assisted on the next goal -- a 10-yard header by Stallings. She drew several defenders with a run to the far corner before launching a perfect pass to Stallings who stood to Tadle's right and easily scored.
Montague exploited the Saints sagging defense for her goal, collecting a loose ball to Tadle's right and chipping it home on one bounce.
"There were times when we struggled to win this season, but we've been a different team the last couple of weeks," said Rehrmann. "We put Julia Malinowski in the backfield, and the team has been in sync ever since."
Malinowski, a senior, is a two-time All-Metro player and one of just three high school players -- the rest are in college -- who is a candidate for the under-19 national team. With Malinowski in the backfield, the Patriots outscored their opponents, 22-4 -- including three shutouts -- in the last seven games.
Against the Saints, Malinowski (nine goals, four assists) consistently redirected the ball into the offense and diverted the rushes of St. Mary's top scorers Mo McDonough (24 goals, seven assists) and Randall Goldsborough (nine goals, nine assists).
"I was really disappointed in the way we played the first part of the game, but then our defense started pushing up, and they couldn't penetrate," said Malinowski, who helped limit the Saints to just one corner kick by not letting the ball slip across the end line.
Malinowski got help though, shortly after Goldsborough and McDonough combined for the Saints' only goal on a counterattack just four minutes into the game. That's when Rehrmann assigned senior defender Kate Van Rooy to McDonough for the rest of the game.
Van Rooy held McDonough scoreless in the last meeting between the two teams.
"I think I know the way (McDonough) plays better than anyone on the team," said Van Rooy, a two-time All-League and All-County player. "Every time her teammates looked up, they saw me in front of her. I took away her chances to turn on the ball."
As a result, the Patriots' offense closed the first half with five-straight near-misses.
In the second half, the Patriots picked up where they left off: with five consecutive shots on goal in the first four minutes.
"We should have an excellent team next year," said Torbit, adding that the junior varsity squad also defeated St. Mary's for the title.
Stallings spoke for all the Patriots seniors when she said: "Winning this year was much better. As a senior, I wanted to go out on top."