May 19, 2012

Loyola Headed to Final Four After Gritty Win

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com | Live Blog Replay

Eric Lusby (above) scored five goals, J.P. Dalton won 17 of 22 faceoffs and Loyola goalie Jack Runkel made 11 saves as the Greyhounds beat Denver for a third time this season to reach their first final four since 1998.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- The top-seeded Loyola Greyhounds had to hang on and survive on a day when their offense had enormous difficulty finishing plays. But their gritty, 10-9 victory over unseeded Denver before 13,390 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Saturday's NCAA tournament quarterfinal still yielded a cathartic result.

Loyola (16-1) is headed to its first final four since 1998. The Greyhounds, in search of their first Division I championship, will face the winner of Sunday's Virginia-Notre Dame quarterfinal on Saturday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.

The realization that the Loyola program had taken such a step forward hit head coach Charley Toomey hard. Toomey was an All-American goalie at Loyola in 1990, when the Greyhounds staged their only run to the national title game.

"It's hard for me not to get emotional, because this team has worked for so long together through good times and bad this spring," said Toomey, who fought back tears. "They stayed together. They stayed the course. Every time we play [Denver] it's an absolute war. I'm just glad to be on the high side of this one game. I'm proud of my young men."

And in the end, the style points didn't matter. It didn't matter that the Greyhounds shot only 10-for-48, didn't matter that they committed 16 turnovers, didn't matter that one of the highest-scoring teams in the land did not score for the game's final 10:29, while their 10-6 lead nearly slipped away.

What mattered was Loyola had fifth-year senior attackman Eric Lusby, who picked up his struggling teammates with a heroic, five-goal, seven-point performance, and needed only 10 shots to get it done.

What mattered was Loyola found a way to beat its ECAC rival for the third straight time in 2012 – and hand the Pioneers (9-7) their sixth, one-goal loss of the year – by stitching together just enough scoring, thanks largely to Denver's lack of discipline. The Pioneers were whistled for 10 penalties, and the Greyhounds cashed in four extra-man scores as a result. That part of the game that did not sit well with Denver head coach Bill Tierney, who drew an unsportsmanlike conduct call.

"It's absurdly difficult," said Tierney, in an apparent shot at the officiating crew when asked about playing man-down defense so often. "I'm disappointed in a lot of things about the game today, but not the effort. We just couldn't get another goal. To Loyola's credit, they found Lusby today."

And what mattered was Loyola collected enough possessions behind senior faceoff specialist J.P. Dalton (17-for-22 against Denver's Chase Carraro) and made the stops when it counted, right down to the nail-biting final minutes when the Greyhounds were holding the ball and clinging to a 10-9 lead. Right down to the game's last shot by Denver.

The final three minutes were tense. First, Denver freshman midfielder Wes Berg, who was outstanding with two goals and two assists, plowed through two defenders and scored down low to cut the Greyhounds lead to 10-9 with 2:43 left.

Then, Denver freshman goalie Ryan LaPlante (14 saves) stuffed Loyola midfielder Chris Layne in close at the 1:57 mark. By that point, the Pioneers were pulling LaPlante in search of turnovers, and they ruined a faceoff win by Dalton by forcing one and calling timeout with 1:24 to go.

Loyola goalie Jack Runkel (11 saves) then stepped up to deny Berg on a clutch, kick save with 1:09 left. Loyola regained possession and called timeout with 32.6 seconds left. But on the ensuing play, midfielder Davis Butts got double-teamed on the left wing and had an ill-advised shot blocked, giving Denver one last chance to force overtime.

The Pioneers raced up field and got the ball to midfielder Cameron Flint, whose shot was blocked by defenseman Joe Fletcher, sending the ball out onto the left wing area. Loyola LSM Scott Ratliff scooped up the ground ball and threw it to the opposite end of the field. Game over.

"That is a dangerous shot in a dangerous situation. Flint got his hands free from 12 yard out," said an admiring Ratliff. "That's Fletcher."

"I think our defense is all about 'bring it on.' We knew we had to just get another [stop]," Runkel said. "This hasn't sunk in yet. I've got to wake up tomorrow morning, and think about it again. Maybe it will sink in then."

With three goals from senior star attackman Mark Matthews and two apiece from midfielders Flint and Jeremy Noble, Denver nearly knocked out Loyola. But the Greyhounds, despite missing the cage 24 times and getting a paltry, 5-for-38 shooting day from players not named Lusby, prevailed.

The bug even got to Loyola attackman Mike Sawyer, who opened the scoring and took over the school's single-season record with his 51st goal. But Sawyer, with freshman defender Carson Cannon all over him, was held to a 1-for-9 day.

Lusby made it 2-0 on a 10-yard, extra-man rocket for his 41st goal of the year, and he was just getting started. So was Denver, which got two from Matthews to tie the score. It would be tied three times in the first half. But Lusby scored back-to-back goals off of assists from Justin Ward, including his second man-up goal, to give the Greyhounds a 6-4 lead at halftime.

Loyola opened the second half with a 4-2 run that included two, third-quarter goals from Lusby. Butts finished the run, thanks to a nice dish by Lusby, with a 10-yard runner that made it 10-6 with 10:29 left. But the Greyhounds went cold again, got sloppy while holding the ball to preserve what they had, and the Pioneers got goals from Matthews and Noble in a 65-second span to cut the lead to 10-8 with 7:37.

Berg, who assisted Noble while falling down near the crease on Denver's eighth score, then beat Runkel with 2:43 left to get the Pioneers oh, so close.


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