In the grueling MIAA A Conference, soccer teams need high energy and a top performance every time out to get results and build points. With so many games against top flight opponents, however, this can be easier said than done.

On Monday in Owings Mills, No. 2 Calvert Hall and No. 4 McDonogh both battled through some sluggish stretches, especially on the offensive end of the field, but the visiting Cardinals found a spark in the second half and collected a pair of goals to prevail, 2-0, to pick up three critical points in the league standings.

The biggest spark was a free kick opportunity with 36 minutes to play, when the Cardinals got a huge goal from their aerial specialist, senior defender Seth Walker, to break a scoreless tie.

Senior Brady O’Connor served up the volley towards the far post, which Walker rose to meet, striking a header across the keeper inside the near post.

Walker, an anchor in the Calvert Hall back, said his coaches use his height as a weapon on set pieces.

“I’m one of the taller kids on the team. I’m decent in the air and the coaches want me in the box,” said Walker. “I saw that Brady was taking it, so I put my hand up, so he would know I was back post. He played a brilliant ball across and luckily I was able to get my head on it and go across the goalie.”

“Seth probably works as hard as anybody on this team,” said Calvert Hall coach Rich Zinkand. “He’s just dynamic in the air. Anything in the center of the pitch he wins for us in the air, so I’m happy for him to get the ball. I saw him on the far post. I was hoping Brady would be able to get it over there and he timed it just right and knocked it in near post.”

From that point, Calvert Hall took a more defensive posture, but counterattacked effectively when opportunities presented themselves. The best example came with 15 minutes, 48 seconds to play when a long clear was driven deep down the left side. Senior Ben Alexander won the ball and dribbled inside where he was fouled by McDonogh’s Jayson Cyrus, setting up a penalty kick.

O’Connor took the PK and drove the ball high and left, into the net for a 2-0 lead.

McDonogh continued to battle, knowing it staged a late rally early in the season at Calvert Hall, erasing a 2-0 deficit in the final six minutes to earn overtime, in an eventual 3-2 loss. This time, however, the offense just did not come together.

“To be honest, of all the results this year, I’m just as disappointed in this one as maybe the Gilman loss,” said McDonogh coach Brandon Quaranta. “I didn’t think, for an opportunity to tie for first on your home soil, I didn’t think we had enough passion or energy for the entire game.”

Quaranta believes his team can still get to where it wants to go if it can continue to grow up and improve its consistency

“The reality is, with the makeup of the young team we have, we have to fight and scrap for the entire game, like we did at Curley and we did for a lot of the St. Joe game, or it’s tough to beat teams like this,” said Quaranta. “To be honest, I didn’t think we did that consistently enough today to get a result against a really good team like Calvert Hall.”

The three points were critical for Calvert Hall (11-2-2 overall, 9-2-1 MIAA A) in its quest to claim one of the league’s top two seeds and a first round playoff bye. The Cardinals now have a league-best 28 points, but they have played two more league games than their two closest competitors, top-ranked Mount St. Joseph (25 points) and No. 3 Archbishop Curley (22 points).

As Zinkand point out, the Cardinals can control their destiny.

“We can still control our destiny with games against Curley and St. Joe, but this is a big one today. We talked about needing three points over here. It’s been a long time, I told the boys I looked but didn’t quite find the year, the last time we beat them twice in the same season. I’m proud of the effort  today.

“We talked about using these experiences from early in the year. We’ve had a lot of highs and lows,” added Zinkand. “It seems like it’s been a long season, but this is a big win and hope we can build some momentum from it.”

Walker took that thought one step further.

“It’s definitely turning our season around,” he said of Monday’s victory. “We’ve dropped a couple we shouldn’t. So, we’re going forward.”

McDonogh (9-5, 6-5) is now 10 points behind Calvert Hall, as the Eagles sit in fourth place. The opportunity for a first round by may be slipping away, but McDonogh can still earn a home game in the quarterfinal round if it can place third or fourth. Gilman (7-3-3, 5-3-2), which defeated Loyola, 2-1, on Monday, is just one point behind McDonogh for fourth place.

CH     0  2  —  2
MCD  0  0  —  0
CH-Walker, O’Connor.
ASSIST: CH-O’Connor.
SAVES: CH-Cooper 3; MCD-Little 2.