After winning their first seven games of the young season by an average of 10 goals per outing, No. 1 St. Paul’s School for Girls’ top-ranked lacrosse team encountered some tough sledding for the first time this spring at No. 4 Maryvale Prep on Thursday afternoon.

The feisty Lions fought back from a 6-2 deficit with just over 18 minutes remaining in regulation to rally to within a goal in the final 28 seconds before falling, 9-8, in the hard-fought Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference battle.

The Gators (8-0, 5-0 conference) came out of the gate quickly, getting goals from seniors Natalie Shurtleff, Karina Herrera and Lauren Steer to grab a 3-0 lead in the first 10 minutes.

And with the way its defense was smothering the Lions (6-2, 3-2) with lightning-quick double teams, the two-time defending A Conference champs appeared to be on the verge of another lopsided win.

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Even though Maryvale began to find its footing after senior Noel Cumberland scored on a free position after a takeaway by senior Abby Marquette, St. Paul’s countered on a goal by senior Frannie Hahn to take 4-1 lead into the intermission.

girls lacrosse
Senior Natalie Shurtleff (13) makes an impressive dash through a sea of defenders to score a goal for top-ranked St. Paul's School for Girls during its 9-8 win at Maryvale Preparatory School on Thursday. St. Paul held onto their lead, to win the game, but Maryvale made an impressive comeback after being down four points early in the game. (Paul Newson/The Baltimore Banner)

The Gators increased their cushion to 5-1 on Herrera’s second goal early in the second half and were poised to wreak even more havoc when they had an extra-man advantage.

The Lions’ man-down defense was up to the task, however, taking the ball away for the first of three penalty kills and directly leading to junior Ryan Kinkead’s 8-meter goal to cut the lead to 5-2.

Kinkead rippled the net from the same spot four more times over the next 13 minutes to offset goals by St. Paul’s sophomores Marleigh O’Day and Riley Vasile during a furious rally to whittle the lead down to 7-6 with 5:12 left.

At that point, Maryvale had all the momentum until St. Paul’s junior Kira Balis snagged her fifth draw control of the game while filling in for senior Anna Regan, who was sidelined after being assessed two yellow cards.

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Needing a goal to stem the tide, the Gators went to their go-to scorer Shurtleff to restore order. The Clemson commit not only managed to get a shot past senior Lion goalie Abby Francioli (8 saves) to make it, 8-6, she also fed sophomore Caroline Hoskins for what appeared to be an insurance goal with three minutes to go to fatten the lead to 9-6.

Shurtleff said that she tries to do anything that the team needs in order to win.

“I saw a matchup and I saw an opportunity.” she said.

St. Paul’s coach Mary Gagnon said that Shurtleff has what it takes in clutch situations.

“I felt confident as soon as the ball was in her stick,” the coach said. “She wants the ball — she wants to be in that position.”

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Maryvale kept coming after the Gators, scoring twice in the final minutes on goals by seniors Sam Paradise — assisted by freshman Cayden Reese — and Elizabeth Garcia to give the visitors a few more anxious moments.

“It was a typical IAAM game with two talented teams,” Gagnon said. “You knew both teams were going to go on runs. They scored a lot of 8-meter goals (the first six of the game) on some (penalty) calls that I agree with and some I don’t — that’s the nature of the game. We knew we were going to be tested, You have to credit Maryvale.”

Maryvale coach Brian Reese credited Fancioli for an outstanding game.

“Abby is one of the best in the conference,” he said. “She was all-conference last year and she is playing even a higher level this year. Our defensive effort was really good, holding a team to nine goals is impressive.”

He said that his team’s defense, including the man-down unit, was very sharp.

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“Defense all day was great — man-down especially,” Reese added. “The girls communicated well. They all stepped up and played very, very well. We gave a game award to Reagan Kuehn and Abby Francioli — and Meghan Dwan played very well coming off the bench. Every person that went in there did a really good job and communicated and played the kind of lacrosse we wanted them to.”

NO. 1 ST.PAUL’S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS 9, NO. 4  MARYVALE 8

St. Paul’s 4 5 — 9

Maryvale 1 7 — 8

Goals: St. Paul’s-Natalie Shurtleff 2, Sophia Herrera 2, Lauren Steer, Riley Vasile, Frannie Hahn, Marleigh O’Day, Caroline Hoskins; Maryvale-Ryan Kinkead 5, Sam Paradise, Noel Cumberland, Elizabeth Garcia.

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Assists: St. Paul’s-Frannie Hahn, Nataile Shurtleff, Lauren Steer; Maryvale-Cayden Reese.

Saves: St. Paul’s-Susan Radebaugh 2; Maryvale-Abby Francioli 8.

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