Second-ranked Gilman and No. 14 Loyola played their Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A conference semifinal through a cold, relentless rain in front of a throng of boisterous supporters banging drums, blowing horns and chanting, creating an atmosphere much like a classic English soccer match.
And the run of play for both teams was clean despite the conditions. A late first-half goal by Joey Cahalan set the tone for host Gilman and another by Riley DeSmit midway through the second half secured a 2-0 victory.
The Greyhounds beat Loyola for the third time this season by using the same formula of winning loose balls, taking advantage of set pieces and out-hustling the Dons across the field. Gilman will meet McDonogh in the MIAA title game Sunday at Archbishop Spalding. The Greyhounds have not advanced to the conference championship since 1995, when they shared the title with Archbishop Curley.
"We generate our opportunities through work" Gilman coach Jon Seal said. "We came out and played with a lot of focused energy. They just found a way to score. It calmed us down a bit. Loyola is a talented team, but we found a way to get a second goal. It's the first time we hosted a semifinal in quite some time and now we are going to the championship for the first time in 15 years. I want our guys to enjoy the moment. We're going against a program in McDonogh that's been there 10 out of the past 11 years. We're gonna be the underdog even though we're the No. 1 seed."
The Greyhounds (16-2-3) peppered Loyola's goal in the opening minutes but could not find an effective final touch. Loyola (9-9-1) was successful in moving the ball through the midfield to create several scoring opportunities, but Gilman goalie Andrew Harris played flawlessly. The Dons erupted for three first half goals against Calvert Hall in the quarterfinals, but solving Gilman's defense was an entirely different challenge.
"We knew they had an explosive offense coming off a big game against Calvert Hall," Harris said. "I talked to my backline and we played real well together. Guys are stepping up all over the field. It's been a consistent effort all year."
The Greyhounds took the lead when Tanner Vosvick drove a free kick into the Dons penalty area and Cahalan pounced on the loose ball and found the corner of the goal with just 3:20 left in the first half. The Dons settled down and continued to push forward but the Gilman defenders continued to clear any dangerous balls.
Gilman increased the lead to 2-0 when DeSmit found a loose ball just outside the penalty area and slotted just inside the near post.
"We feel like we have come this far, we have to win," Cahalan said. "It's been a great season, but we want to win it all. We've grown together as a team. Our bench is incredible."
Loyola furiously attacked Gilman's goal in the final 12 minutes. However, a shot by Jeremy DeGraffenreidt caromed off the cross bar and a close-range shot by Jamie Dubyoski was turned away by Harris.
"You have to give them a lot of credit," Loyola coach Lee Tschantret. "They organize themselves very well defensively. These are always tough losses."
No. 6 McDonogh 2, No. 7 Mount St. Joseph 0: The Eagles advanced to the MIAA championship on a first-half goal by Malcolm Harris and a second-half penalty kick by Mike Gamble. The Gaels were without their top playmaker Jalen Robinson, who was out with a hamstring injury.
The Eagles (18-5-1) and Gilman split their regular season series with each winning at home. McDonogh is looking for its third title in the past four years. McDonogh beat the defending champion Gaels (13-4-2) three times this season.
"We have to make sure we are aware during their set pieces," McDonogh coach Steve Nichols said about Gilman. "They are very good at free kicks and long throws. You have to give Gilman credit. They are a very good high school soccer team."