Top-ranked Calvert Hall College clinched the overall top seed on the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference lacrosse playoffs on Friday night by topping fifth-ranked St. Paul’s School, 8-3, at chilly Paul Angelo Russo Stadium in Towson.

The No. 1 Cardinals (14-2 overall, 8-0 MIAA A), coming off an emotional come-from-behind double-overtime victory over No. 2 Boys’ Latin earlier in the week, leaned on their defense to smother a St. Paul’s offense that was averaging 11.6 goals per game overall and 10 goals per outing in league play coming into the game.

“Our offense kind of let us down,” said St. Paul’s coach Rick Brocato, who received a warm tribute from the public address announcer before the game regarding his impending retirement. “Our sticks just weren’t there tonight, but their pressure had a lot to do with that. Their athleticism, their defensive pressure, I think, rattled us. You just can’t simulate that in practice. Until you go up against it, you don’t know what you’re facing.”

Kudos go to Cardinals’ defensive unit that includes seniors Collin Allen, PJ Peters, Daniel DePeso and Jake Snyder, juniors George Walsh, Trey Smith, Connor Maher and Garrett Zungalia and sophomore Jake Snyder, who harassed the Crusaders in front of junior goalie Liam Darragh (6 saves).

“I think that’s kind of what they’ve been hanging their hat on lately,” Brocato added. “I’ve been watching a lot of film and I’ve been very impressed with how the defense has developed from game to game. They’re a complete team right now.”

Calvert Hall jumped ahead, 1-0, on freshman midfielder Cole Herebert’s goal with just over five minutes remaining in the first quarter and doubled the lead on sophomore attackman Jack Sawyer’s extra-man rocket with 17 seconds left in the period.

Senior midfielder Carson Gaeger halved the deficit for fifth-ranked St. Paul’s (14-4, 5-3 MIAA A) when he opened the second quarter with a goal. Calvert Hall sophomore midfielder Connor Mitchell then one-timed a rebound of a shot by senior attackman JT Bugliosi before senior midfielder Brendan Curry rifled a shot past St. Paul’s senior goalie Alex Rode to stake the Cardinals to a 4-1 halftime advantage.

Rode is the reason the score was that close.

The University of Virginiar recruiit was outstanding in the opening half, turning away nine of Calvert Hall’s 20 shots to keep the Crusaders in the game.

He was equally effective in the third quarter, despite giving up goals to senior attackman JT Bugliosi, senior midfielder Omari DeBerry and junior midfielder Zach Green to fall behind, 7-1, entering the final stanza.

“Alex probably played his most complete game today,” Brocato said. “He’s had a lot of great game is his career, but he really did well in the net for us, and I thought our defense did well, too, for as much defense as we played.”

After St. Paul’s junior midfielder Logan Zimnoch squeezed a stick-side high shot past Darragh and the far post to make it 7-2 early in the fourth quarter, Calvert Hall answered on junior Jacob Kelly’s dive around the crease before senior attackman Logan Posner closed out the scoring for the Crusaders.

Holding the Crusaders to just three goals was a feather in the Cardinals’ cap.

“They slid well, they recovered well.” said Calvert Hall coach Brian Kelly, a former longstick with the Cardinals and North Carolina whose current team had already earned a bye into the postseason semifinal round by beating BL. “It was a good defensive performance. We played well from our short-stick middies to our down-low defenders.”

Walsh praised the scout team for helping the defense prepare for the opposition.

“We wouldn’t be a good defense without them,” the Ohio State commit said. “It was senior night and we wanted to play hard for our seniors. We have a great goalkeeper who talks. I feel really good about this team.”

No. 1 Calvert Hall College 8, No. 5 St. Paul’s School 3

GOALS: SP-Logan Posner, Carson Gaeger, Logan Zimnoch; CHC-Jacob Kelly, Connor Mitchell, Brendan Curry,  JT Bugliosi, Jack Sawyer, Cole Herbert, Zach Green, Omari DeBerry.

ASSISTS: SP-Logan Zimnoch; CHC-Jacob Kelly.

SAVES: SP-Alex Rode 15; CHC-Liam Darragh 6.