Abernathy’s goal in double OT lifts top-ranked McDonogh past hard-luck St. Paul’s School; trip to Long Island power Manhasset next up

Kayla Abernathy was the hero for McDonogh School girls lacrosse, scoring her team’s last two goals including the game-winner in the second overtime, giving the No. 1 Eagles victory over No. 7 St. Paul’s School. McDonogh next plays New York’s Manhasset Saturday in Long Island in a matchup of the nation’s top two teams.

by Nelson Coffin

Kayla Abernathy trusted her coach’s instincts when the McDonogh junior midfielder considered where to to send her free-position shot with the game — and an undefeated season — on the line with 19 seconds remaining in the second overtime period of an IAAM A Conference battle against No. 8 St. Paul’s School for Girls on Thursday afternoon in Brooklandville.

There were two factors working in her favor as Abernathy mulled over her options from the 8-meter arc.

First and foremost, McDonogh coach Taylor Cummings’ advice to shoot low on the Gator goalie comes from years of experience playing the sport well enough to win three Tewaaraton Awards while also earning a couple of national championships for Maryland and claiming a world title with the U.S. National Team.

Secondly, St. Paul’s sophomore Leah Wareheim had been turning away a slew of mid-to-high shots by the top-ranked Eagles (8-0, 6-0 conference) — including a couple of dazzling stops earlier in the period — while recording a game-high 13 saves in an outstanding performance.

“Their goalie had made a ton of great saves,” said Abernathy, who earned a slight 9-6 edge in draws against St. Paul’s senior Shelton Sawers. “And my coach had talked about shooting low on her. I tried to put it at her feet.”

Just as Cummings figured, Abernathy’s shot rippled the net to secure a hard-fought 7-6 victory to set off an enthusiastic celebration for a team that has now won 206 out of its last 207 games and all eight of its outings this spring.

St. Paul’s (5-3, 3-3) fell for the third time this season in overtime after previously bowing to Roland Park Country School and Glenelg Country School in similar fashion.

Thursday’s game was a tale of two distinctly different halves, with St. Paul’s clinging defense dominating the Eagles by forcing nine turnovers and its offense netting five of its first nine shots to take a 5-1 halftime advantage.

Junior midfielder Alex Pirisino converted a feed from Sawers for the first Gator goal before Sawers made it 2-0 with a run through the heart of the McDonogh defense.

Abernathy notched the only answer with just over 12 minutes remaining in the half for the Eagles, who kept the score close until the Gators closed the half on a 3-0 run powered by goals by Sawers and senior attackers Annie Ponsi and Caroline Pearce.

McDonogh’s frustration was mounting, especially early in the opening half when the Eagle offense came up empty on its first six possessions against the defense of Sawers, juniors Lizzy and Alex Pirisino and Laney Cornelius, sophomores Paris Colgain, Esprit Cha and Josie Hahn and freshman Madison Beale.

The Eagles flipped the script in the second half, committing just four more turnovers while the offense started to click.

After shooting a meager 1-for-10 in the first half, the Eagle shooters began to find the range in the second half.

“We were getting a lot of good shots in the first half, but we weren’t shooting well,” Abernathy said. “We started to play more as a team in the second half.”

Cummings said that her offense was playing “a little loosey, goosey” in the first half against a rival playing strong man-to-man defense and protecting the middle well.

“St. Paul’s just played us tough,” Cummings said. “We had to value the ball more in the second half. And we played a little bit cleaner defense.”

While the Eagle offense produced two goals by senior midfielder Blair Pearre and one each by Abernathy, sophomore midfielder Kemper Robinson and freshman attacker Caroline Godine to take a 6-5 lead with just under 10 minutes left, the defense held the Gators scoreless for nearly the entire second half until St. Paul’s sophomore attacker Maddie Scheffs rolled the crease to knot the score at 6-6 with less than a minute remaining in regulation.

The Gators did get the ball immediately in the first overtime after Sawers won the draw, but were unable to take advantage of the situation.

“We’re still a young team, and we don’t play as confidently as we need to down the stretch,” St. Paul’s coach Mary Gagnon said. “That’s something that we have to learn how to do.”

The Gators will travel to take on Bryn Mawr on Tuesday in what figures to be another tightly contested conference tussle.

Cummings said that the trip to Long Island will be great test for the Eagles.

“Long Island teams play a little bit of a different style than we do,” she said. “They like to run-and-gun, communicate loudly and swarm to the ball.”

Pictured above: McDonogh’s Kayala Abernathat scored three goals, including the game-winner in double-overtime, as the Eagles survived an upset bid from St. Paul’s School for Girls

McDonogh 1 5 0 1 — 7
St. Paul’s 5 1 0 0 — 6
Goals: McDonogh-Kayla Abernathy 3, Blair Pearre 2, Kemper Robinson, Caroline Godine; St. Paul’s-Shelton Sawers 2,
Annie Ponsi, Alex Pirisino, Caroline Pearce, Maddie Scheffs.
Assists: McDonogh-Kayla Abernathy, Caroline Godine; St. Paul’s-Shelton Sawers, Alex Pirisino.
Saves: McDonogh-Julia Hammerschlag 4; St. Paul’s-Leah Wareheim 13.