May 27, 2012

Lusby, Defense Lead Loyola to Final Four

by Gary Lambrecht | | Live Blog Replay

NCAA Division I Men's Semifinals

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Top-seeded Loyola could hardly win a faceoff attempt, could not get its top goal-scorer going and could not mount a sustained run with one of the most explosive offenses in the sport.

Eric Lusby led Loyola with five goals and the Greyhounds defense held Notre Dame scoreless for two stretches over 20 minutes to advance to Monday's NCAA championship game.
© Kevin P. Tucker

But the Greyhounds had red-hot, fifth-year senior attackman Eric Lusby. They had a tenacious defense, led by sophomore goalie Jack Runkel and short-stick midfielder Josh Hawkins. And Loyola was firmly resolved to play one more game in this magical season, while No. 4 seed Notre Dame was doomed to pay the price for it.

Backed by a five-goal performance from Lusby and a defense that shut down the Fighting Irish for two stretches exceeding 20 minutes, Loyola was held to a season-low in scoring, yet still controlled most of a 7-5, NCAA tournament semifinal victory in front of 31,774 at Gillette Stadium.

The victory sends Loyola (17-1) to the NCAA championship game on Monday against unseeded Maryland, which routed Duke, 16-10 in Saturday's other semifinal. Loyola, which is making its second appearance in the NCAA final, will go after the first Division I title in school history.

It wasn't easy for the Greyhounds, even though they never trailed Notre Dame (13-3) and led in wire-to-wire fashion after Lusby scored his second goal to give Loyola a 2-1 lead with 3:21 left in the first quarter.

The Greyhounds wanted to play at fast, 40-shot pace, but were forced to play at Notre Dame's slower cadence, since Loyola senior J.P. Dalton won just one of 14 faceoff chances. They wanted to stretch Notre Dame's defense by getting out in transition, but had to grapple with the Irish's packed-in zone defense and first-team, All-American goalie John Kemp.

But Loyola did what it has done all spring. It adapted with its elastic roster and made huge plays. It started with Lusby, who blew up the Irish with his second, straight, five-goal showing of the playoffs. It continued with Runkel, who made a career-high 15 saves, including 11 in a stifling, second half.

"It shows the character in our locker room. They'll recognize the situation and play to it. We just did a good job of digging in. I think the players were more relaxed than the coaches," said Loyola head coach Charley Toomey, who played goalie for the 1990 Loyola team that lost to Syracuse in the Greyhounds' only other national title game appearance.

As for leading the Greyhounds back to the NCAA finals in his seventh season coaching at his alma mater, Toomey said, "It means everything. It's a special feeling. Steve Vaikness [Loyola assistant] and I roomed together on that team. We ride the bus together. All we've wanted is for the kids to have the same feeling we had 22 years ago."

Thanks to players such as Lusby, the left-handed gunslinger who has 13 goals and five assists and has produced at least a hat trick in all three tournament games, the Greyhounds are playing on the season's last day.

"I'm playing confident right now," Lusby said. "I see net and I shoot for net. I don't try to pick the corners. When you try to aim in an exact spot, that's when you start messing with your head. The past few games I've had a pretty good shooting percentage."

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