Notre Dame Prep waited until the IAAM A Conference playoffs to record its first league win of the season - an upset of Archbishop Spalding.
No. 2 Mercy made it abundantly clear very early to the sixth-ranked Blazers in Wednesday’s semifinal another upset would not happen. The host Magic punched their first ticket to the A Conference title game in six years in the first 20 minutes of the match, scoring all their goals en route to a 4-1 victory.
Mercy (15-1 overall), seeking its first title since joining the IAAM 13 years ago, will face defending champ and fourth-ranked McDonogh, Saturday night at Calvert Hall. The Eagles disposed of No. 3 John Carroll, 4-0, in the other semifinal Wednesday.
“We’re the only team in the conference, except St. Paul’s, that has never won (but) we’ve never finished first in the regular season (until this season),” said Pryor, whose squad won all five of its league matches this fall and improved to 15-1 overall with Wednesday’s victory. “Great game today. Obviously, getting the (first-round) bye is big. They had to play Friday. It kind of showed early. We were a little fresher and got four quick goals. Then the game kind of leveled out.”
Ending Notre Dame’s hopes of another upset was Mercy senior midfielder Peyton Schenning, who played up top in the first half and responded with a pair of goals. Roughly five minutes into the contest, she beat one of the Notre Dame center backs for possession of a long through ball and then slotted a groundball shot past Blazers goalkeeper Lydia Itzoe, who sprinted off her line a split second too late.
“Our seniors led the way today,” Pryor said. “We’ve got the best player in the league, probably the best player in the state, and one of the best players in the country, and (Schenning) showed up for us early. These kids have worked hard.”
Schenning’s opening scoring strike came after Notre Dame Prep (5-5-4) had actually dominated possession inside Mercy’s half of the field in the opening minutes.
“It was a letdown because we knew exactly how they were going to play,” said Blazers coach Cynthia Walsh on giving up the initial goal. “They’re going to be direct, looking for Peyton. At the end of the day, it took five minutes of them wanting it more, and we were shell-shocked.”
Schenning corralled another through ball about five minutes later and angled a deep line drive shot into the upper left corner from just outside the right corner of the penalty area for a commanding 2-0 lead with 30:43 remaining in the opening half.
“When up on top, I feel like I’m a dangerous player,” said Schenning, who moved back to midfield in the second half to help the Magic secure the shutout. “It feels great (to score), especially the first 10 minutes of the game. I’m so proud of my teammates: I wouldn’t be here without them, finally getting to the championship. My four years through here, we have been so close, and we’re finally here, and I’m so proud and hopefully, we can bring (the title) back.”
Sydney Feiler followed Schenning’s second goal less than three minutes later, turning on a shot just outside of the box that drilled the bottom of the crossbar and then dropped into the goal for a 3-0 advantage. Roughly seven minutes later, the lead grew to four as Mackenzie Hobik followed up a pair of saves by Itzoe following a well-placed free kick from Schenning.
Conversely, the Blazers (5-5-4) did not record their first shot on goal right before the horn signaled halftime. In the second half, Greyson Tischer had a near miss during a scrum in front of the goal as her shot ricocheted off the left post and away from the goal before Natalie O’Brocki fired into the back of the net on a penalty kick with 1:17 remaining in the match.
“I’m still pretty proud of the way we continued to fight,” Walsh said. “All it took was five minutes. I told the girls Mercy wanted it more in those five minutes and kudos to them. That’s what they’ve done all year. I think they’ll do great things this year in the championship. I’m still proud of the way that we played and stuck it through to the end.”
Saturday’s final will be the third for Mercy, and Pryor’s second as Magic coach.
“We’ve been in the league for 13 years. We took a lot of lumps, got beaten bad,” said Pryor. “It’s good for these kids just to play Saturday. When you’re in the final, anything can happen.”
“My four years through here, we have been so close, and we’re finally here, and I’m so proud and hopefully,” said Schenning, who missed last season due to injury, “we can bring (the title) back.”
IAAM A SEMIFINALS
NO. 2 MERCY 4, NO. 6 NOTRE DAME PREP 1
Notre Dame Prep 0 1 - 1
Mercy 4 0 - 4
GOALS: Mercy - Peyton Schenning 2, Sydney Feiler, Mackenzie Hobik.
SAVES: Notre Dame Prep - Lydia Itzoe 2, Katie Glagola 1. Mercy - Soleil Umbarger 2, Christina Ellis 0.