Perhaps the visiting Mount de Sales soccer team was at a disadvantage against Archbishop Spalding in their first-round Baltimore CatholicLeague playoff game yesterday.
The third-seeded Sailors brought a10-6 record into the contest -- good enough for third place in the BDivision. But the sixth-seeded Cavaliers (3-8-3), who finished in the bottom of the slightly tougher A Division, were aided by a 12th member the visitors couldn't see.
Cavs junior Lexie Cano wasn't running the right wing in her No. 18 jersey, but as Coach Wayne Sanchez said after his club's 1-0 victory, her spirit was "smiling down on us, wherever she is right now."
Cano, who died in a car accident shortly before the season, was on the minds of her former teammates as they took the field in the brightsunshine.
Gentle winds jostled balloons around two banners bearing her name, which provided encouragement to her Spalding friends.
One of Cano's closest companions, Suzy Harris, responded just 4 minutes and 32 seconds into the game.
The junior midfielder took a passfrom senior striker Marie Jamison just beyond the midfield stripe and raced down the near side to the right end line before crossing the ball to the near post.
Sailors' keeper Gina Tirocchi was a step too slow, and Spalding sophomore Tina Karasek put her fifth goal of theseason just inside the post for the game's only score.
"It felt good," said Harris, wiping tears from her eyes. "It felt like I did itfor Lexie. Every game has been for her."
Defenders Rachel Synowski, Jen Sparks, Jen Davis and Amy Povloski made the goal stand, limiting the Sailors to just one shot in the second half. For the game, theCavaliers had a 26-7 advantage in shots and 6-3 in corner kicks.
Spalding keeper Nicole Trumpler made all six of her saves in the first half.
The Cavaliers entered the game on the heels of last week'sregular season-ending 2-2 tie with defending league- and tournament-champion John Carroll, a team that had beaten them,
They next face league rival and No. 2 seed St. Mary's (13-2-1), which owns two victories over them. But for encouragement, Sanchez needonly to look at the second meeting -- a 3-1 win for the Saints -- inwhich his Cavaliers led briefly, 1-0.
"I've wanted to win today'sgame more than any I've ever coached," said Sanchez, whose Cavaliersalso tied McDonogh and Catholic, each of which had soundly beaten them in previous meetings.
For a young team -- with just four seniors -- Sanchez said, "This team has just gotten so close because of this. As players and teammates, they've never given up."
Midfielder Carrie Lycett said, "The season has been somewhat disappointing, but we had fun. Whenever we stepped on the field, we thought of Lexie."
In a pregame ceremony, the Boosters Club retired Cano's jersey. It also sold refreshments during the game, proceeds from which will go toward planting a tree overlooking the soccer field and toward the purchase of a plaque bearing Cano's name to be posted in the school.
Harris, a longtime friend of Cano's, was shopping in Glen Burnie's Marley Station Mall when a mutual friend informed her of her best friend's death.
"I couldn't believe it. I didn't want to believe it," she said. "The first few practices were hard. You'd make a pass to where she'd be, then you'd realize that she wasn't there."
As yesterday's game wore on, the wind suddenly grew cold and brisk. But just moments before the game's final whistle, Spalding's Michelle Massarini pointed in the direction of the setting sun.
"Look," she said to a teammate. "There's a rainbow."
Similarly, the youthful Cavaliers have found a silver lining in Cano's passing.
"She's always with menow," said Harris. "I know she is."