Senior backup goalie Jen Cook made only her second start of the season and played in just her third soccer game of her career as No. 1 McDonogh squared off with No. 3 Mercy in an IAAM A Conference semifinal match at Archbishop Spalding, Thursday.

Cook and the Eagles held onto a 3-2 victory against the Magic to move on to the league title game on Saturday at Anne Arundel Community College.

“I was really nervous when Morgan [Ruhl] went down with a concussion. My first reaction was to freak out, starting in the playoffs is not a good situation but the team has been really supportive and the same with all of the coaches,” said Cook, who will be attending the University of Maryland for lacrosse next year.  “It was really nerve-wrecking to be in there but also to know that I had the team’s confidence really made it easier.”

She added: “It’s exciting to have the win and go to the finals. Even though they got two in, we got one more than them and the pressure is off from me.  Hopefully Morgan will be back on Saturday.”

The game was originally scheduled to be played at McDonogh at 3:45, but due to the steady rain the contest was moved to 6:00 p.m. at Spalding, much to the chagrin of the Eagles players.

“We were a little flustered today when we found out that we wouldn’t have home field advantage and we’d be playing at Spalding, which isn’t exactly our favorite place to be,” said junior Taylor Cummings.  “But we came in with the mindset that we were going to play hard, get the ball and we were going to score.  That’s what we did.”

McDonogh (15-1-1) got off to a fast start, scoring in the fifth minute.  Mallory Schonk sent in a corner kick that went past Mercy goalie Rachel Bourne. The ball bounced around and was touched by Anna Bialczak before Cummings fired it into the open net.

The Magic (14-3-3) responded with three minutes left in the first half when junior Alexis Prior-Brown made a move, carried the ball to her right and beat Cook to tie the game 1-1.

But the tie was short-lived as the Eagles scored again in the same fashion, after a corner kick got beyond Bourne (nine saves) and Lexi Goldstein put McDonogh back on top.

“At halftime, that was what I was most pleased with,” said Eagles coach Harry Canellakis about the goal before the half.  “If you go into halftime 1-1, they have all of the momentum, so I had a lot of respect for my team for being able to answer back so quickly.”

Freshman Casey Martinez received a pass from Goldstein, split two defenders and made a run at the goal.  She put it past the keeper, giving the Eagles a 3-1 advantage with 28 minutes to go.

Once again, Mercy cut the lead back down to one as Lexi Neiodoba fired a free kick from 40-yards out into the back of the net with nine minutes left.

The score remained unchanged and after a hand ball was called on McDonogh with less than two minutes remaining.  Neiodoba lined up for another direct kick but this time the ball went just wide of the goal and the Eagles held off the Magic.

“McDonogh is the best team in our conference, one of the best teams in the state and in the nation,” said Mercy coach Doug Pryor.  “In the first 15-20 minutes, I think our kids played a little intimidated and a little nervous. Once we got the goal, we got back in the game and got our confidence. Then we let down 30 seconds later and they scored again.”

He added: “In the second half, we scored to get back into the game and in the last 15 minutes, we were in their box, they did what they had to do to survive but we had them on their heels.”

McDonogh turns its attention to Saturday’s championship match with bitter rival Spalding.

“It’s going to be a grudge match on Saturday for sure,” Canellakis said.  “Our girls love playing against Spalding and the Spalding girls love playing against us. So it’s going to be one of those games but I think the sooner that we calm down and play possession soccer, the more likely we are to get a good result.”

No. 1 McDonogh 3, No. 3 Mercy 0
M-Prior-Brown, Neiodoba; McD-Cummings, Goldstein, Martinez.
M-Bourne 9; McD-Cook 4.