Spalding Tops MSJ in Rugby Championship
By John Singleton
All season long Mount St. Josephs had built a reputation as a fast-starting rugby squad. Archbishop Spalding, while a strong team, has at times struggled to finish games strongly. On May 16 in the MIAA rugby championship, the Gaels played true to their identity, but it was the Cavaliers who made the big plays down the stretch to seize the MIAA crown with a 26-24 win.
The last few years weve had talented teams, but once wed get out in front wed get complacent, said Spalding Head Coach Kevin Ruddy following the game. Our big push this year has been to finish games strong. To that end, every day, weve made the last 10 minutes of practice the hardest 10 minutes of practices.
To no ones surprise, Mount St. Joseph came out of the blocks quickly in the MIAA final. Senior Doug Neary scored the games first try and conversion kick to make the score 7-0. (In rugby, crossing the goal line is called a try and is worth five points. The subsequent conversion kick through the uprights is worth two points).
In the first half our guys were running hard, supporting each other and making some solid tackles, said Mount St. Joseph Head Coach Mark Hoffman. Weve been a strong first-half team throughout the season, and we came out fired up today.
Not to be outdone, Spalding senior Zach Abey of Pasadena answered with a score and kick to tie the game at 7-7. But the Gaels remained true to their reputation scoring two more times to take a 17-7 halftime lead. However, the missed conversion kicks on both scores would come back to haunt the Gaels later.
At halftime I talked about finishing strong, said Ruddy. That means digging deep and focusing when theres not much gas left in the tank. We also talked about forcing more offensive opportunities through aggressive defense.
At the start of the second half, Spalding capitalized on good field position to close the gap to 17-14 on another try by Abey before scoring again to take a 21-17 lead. Minutes later the Gaels recaptured the lead, 24-21, on a score by Ernest Lievers. On the next possession, Spalding senior Matt Decker burst across the goal line for the Cavs to give his squad a 26-24 edge.
But Decker wasnt the only Cavalier who had been inspired by their coachs halftime speech. For Spaldings Mike Mazza, Coach Ruddys words about aggressive defense turned out to be prophetic. As a first year rugby player, Mazza didnt expect to see action in the championship game, but when his name was called in the second half, the senior dominated offensive lineout play. But it was on the games final possession when Mount St. Joe was primed for a score at their goal line that Mazza stepped in front of the inbound pass for his third defensive lineout steal of the game, making the games biggest and final play as time expired.
Back on March 24 we beat Calvert Hall for our first win of the season, 14-7, with a big play at the very end of the game, recalled Ruddy. That game helped forge our character. It was the beginning of our transformation into a team of strong finishers. And that change in our teams character carried us through the season right up to the championship game.
For ongoing coverage of Severna Park, Broadneck, and Severn sports follow us on Twitter@SPVoiceSports. Receive scores, updates, articles, and our Twitter sports photos in real time, between print issues.
See all of our sports photo slideshows.
Click the Bookmark link to the right to share this article on facebook.