McDonogh's Mike Gamble plays to the crowd after scoring… (Baltimore Sun photo by Gene…)
McDonogh coach Steve Nichols predicted a topsy-turvy season heading into the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference schedule, with the top-tier teams taking turns knocking one another off.
In Tuesday's showdown at No. 1 Archbishop Curley, the playoff race took another twist as the second-ranked Eagles used two goals by Mike Gamble for a 2-1 victory, avenging an earlier loss to the Friars. McDonogh is in sole possession of first place, while Curley, Gilman and Loyola trail by a game.
"The top four teams in this league are as good as anywhere nationally," Nichols said. "We could play with anybody any day. Curley has the best soccer players, and Loyola is dangerous. I think we have a little bit of everything and can defend well, like Gilman, when we have to. It's going to be tough. I think what gives us a little bit of [an] advantage is our seniors."
One of those seniors is Gamble, who has established himself as the premier playmaker in the area. He created several chances with dangerous diagonal runs across the penalty area and scored the game's first goal on a penalty kick after he was fouled with 10 minutes left in the first half.
Gamble gave his team a two-goal cushion with 14:35 remaining in the game when he took a through ball from Malcolm Harris and slotted it inside the far post. Gamble has 23 goals and 11 assists this season.
"We knew they were No. 1 and we were No. 2, so we had to come out with high intensity," Gamble said. "I think we came out stronger. This year I've had a lot more confidence with PKs, and with that and the second goal, we were able to clinch it. But if it wasn't for my team, I wouldn't have gotten those two goals."
The Friars responded with a furious rally in the closing minutes. With 9:19 remaining, Ricky Greensfelder was fouled as he turned toward the goal, and he cut the margin to one when he confidently finished the ensuing penalty kick.
Reid Hawkins narrowly missed tying the game off a header with 4:55 left as McDonogh goalie Matt Sanchez (five saves) made all the necessary stops to seal the victory. The Eagles (11-1-1 overall, 7-1-1) and Friars (12-2, 7-2) could meet once more in the playoffs or the championship game.
"I like the way we responded in the second half," Curley coach Barry Stitz said. "The first half was not that bad, it's just that we were just missing a little something. That was a battle out there today. It felt like a playoff game."
Goals: M—Gamble 2; AC—Greensfelder.
Saves: M—Sanchez 5; AC—Ossie 7.
Half: M: 1-0.