McDonogh lost the game, but may have defined the shape of several Catholic League soccer seasons to come.
The Eagles, in only their second year of league play, advanced to last night's tournament final in Patterson Park before falling to regular-season champion and top-seeded Mercy, 3-0.
"We outmuscled them," said Mercy senior striker Robyn DePasquale, who scored her team's first two goals. She then added, "They're a lot younger than us."
That fact has to make McDonogh coaches Ted Scocos and Maurice Boylen the envy of a league that has made dramatic strides in recent years. The Eagles started two freshmen and five sophomores last night -- after starting as many as nine ninth- and 10th-graders at times -- and will lose only one front-line player to graduation. Mercy, by contrast, started five seniors and six juniors.
"I don't want to see any hanging heads and cry-baby faces. You're not little girls any more. You've proven that," Scocos told his team, which confounded perhaps everybody but itself by surging from the No. 5 seed to the championship game.
McDonogh was fourth in the regular season, then knocked off third-seeded Catholic and No. 2 St. Mary's to reach the final.
Scocos pointed to a midseason game against Archbishop Spalding as the turning point. His Eagles, who had a losing record at the time, dominated but wound up in what could have been a dispiriting 0-0 tie. But, "all of a sudden, the girls said, 'Hey, we can play in this league,' " he said.
"They promised us a 10-win season and delivered [10-8-2]. They promised us a trip to the final and delivered," he said. "Mercy was older, faster and more experienced, but ours are special girls.
"They have to be special to carry the academic load at McDonogh and play soccer at the same time. Nobody gives them anything. They have to work for everything. We want to be to private school girls what Calvert Hall is to private school boys. With these girls, I think we're on our way."
He was seconded by freshman fullback Alaina Lawson, one of several underclassmen who maintained their poise under relentless pressure from Mercy. "I know we'll be back," she said, grinning.