April 13, 2013

Denver Shakes Up Playoff Race with OT Win at Loyola

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com

Cam Flint picked up a loose ball to control the opening faceoff of overtime and beat Loyola goalie Jack Runkel 16 seconds into the extra period to give Denver a 13-12 win.

BALTIMORE — A year ago, Denver figured out torturous ways to lose one-goal games. On Saturday, while facing the defending national champions on the road in a game Loyola badly needed, Denver showed how much it has matured in such pressure-packed atmospheres.

First, the fourth-ranked Pioneers made it very interesting by blowing a four-goal, fourth-quarter lead, as the sixth-ranked Greyhounds came off the deck furiously to force overtime.

Then, just 16 seconds into the extra period at the Ridley Athletic Complex, Denver senior midfielder Cameron Flint picked up a loose ball to control the opening faceoff, sprinted 40 yards downfield, and beat goalie Jack Runkel with a low, 14-yard shot to lift the Pioneers to a 13-12 victory, before 2,478 mostly stunned spectators.

The victory was critical in numerous ways for Denver (10-2, 5-0 ECAC), and the loss was costly for the Greyhounds, who have yet record a marquee win in 2013 and might need to take next month's ECAC tournament to assure a return to the NCAA tournament.

By winning their fifth straight game and the ninth in their last 10 outings, the Pioneers put a grip on the No. 1 seed in the ECAC tournament and added more muscle to their case for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, should they falter in the ECACs.

The Pioneers also exacted some sweet revenge on the Greyhounds, who beat Denver three times en route to the NCAA title in 2012, and nearly did it again on Saturday. Loyola senior attackman Mike Sawyer scored twice in a late, 26-second span, and senior midfielder Sean O'Sullivan tied the score at 12-12 with a vicious, 15-yard shot with 2:11 left in regulation.

Denver, on the strength of four goals from Flint, four points each from attackman Eric Adamson and midfielder Wesley Berg and 18 saves by goalie Ryan LaPlante, proved once again they are quite all right in the clutch this time around. A year after losing six, one-goal affairs, Denver edged Loyola (9-3, 5-1) to win its third overtime game this year, while improving to 4-1 in one-goal games.

"Our mantra all year has been 'one goal.' We knew we had the leadership to dig down deep," said Flint, who started the game-ending sequence by digging out the most important ground ball of the day — on a day when Denver won the ground ball battle, 31-22, mainly by dominating faceoffs behind senior Chase Carraro.

Carraro went 18-for-26 against three Loyola specialists, including 6-0 in the first quarter when the Pioneers jumped out to a 4-1 lead, an advantage they held for nearly 54 consecutive minutes of regulation play. During the opening faceoff sequence in overtime, after Loyola's Blake Burkhart had nearly won the draw against Carraro, Flint scooped up the loose ball and took off, with Loyola long-stick midfielder Scott Ratliff in hot pursuit.

"I just picked it up, sprinted down the field hoped for the best," said Flint, who shot 4-for-10. "I knew where I was putting it, but my shot wasn't too good today. I'm pretty thankful I had one good shot today."

"It's a huge game, a huge win. Just another Loyola-Denver game. Just another war," Denver coach Bill Tierney said. "We know we'll be seeing them at least once more [in the ECACs], maybe twice more. We're going to enjoy this ride."

On a day when 101 players and family members representing Newtown (Conn.) Youth Lacrosse were in attendance — 14 Loyola players ran a free clinic in Newtown several weeks after the December 14 tragedy — there was much on the field for Denver to savor.

For most of Loyola's Senior Day, the Pioneers outplayed the Greyhounds, who were led by four-goal efforts from Sawyer and O'Sullivan. Denver was quicker to loose balls, more aggressive on defense and shot the ball with more efficiency, as they probed Loyola's array of changing defenses deftly inside.

The Pioneers, who were missing injured midfield star Jeremy Noble for the sixth game, manufactured several garbage goals, including one by leading scorer Eric Law (two goals) off of a quick restart from behind the goal at the end of the first half. In a play that typified Denver's day, Law outran defenseman Joe Fletcher to the crease and beat Runkel with five seconds left to give the Pioneers an 8-3 lead at the break.

"We know there was a ton of emotion today. The crowd was electric. There might have been too much at the start of the game," O'Sullivan said. "We made a great run at the end."

That Loyola did, even without injured senior midfielder Chris Layne, who did not play. The Greyhounds, who shot poorly in parts of the day while out-shooting Denver, 46-38 and committed only five turnovers, found themselves down, 9-4, with four minutes left in the third quarter.

From there, it was nearly all Greyhounds, who got their patented transition going and started solving LaPlante, while Denver began to tire. Freshman attackman Zach Herreweyers, O'Sullivan and Hawkins scored in the final three minutes of the quarter. Hawkins sent the crowd into delirium with a fast-break goal that cut the lead to 9-7 with 16 seconds left in the third.

Denver opened the fourth quarter by answering with Adamson and freshman attackman Gordon Koerber, but Loyola stormed back with a 5-1 run to end regulation. O'Sullivan, Hawkins and Sawyer led the charge. Sawyer pulled the Greyhounds to within 12-10 with a behind-the-back shot just to the right of the crease at the 6:29 mark, then nailed a 16-yard runner to make it 12-11 with 6:03 left. O'Sullivan then tied it with 2:11 left with a 15-yard blast from the left wing.

The Greyhounds had a chance to win in regulation, after Ratliff stripped Adamson with 52 seconds left. Loyola called timeout with 31 seconds to go to set up a play. But Sawyer's 14-yard runner from a tough angle hit the right side of the net, sending the game into overtime.

Flint and the Pioneers quickly wrapped up any suspense that was left.

"I was disappointed that, in a big-game situation, that we would allow our opponent to get up on us by five goals. But I was proud of how the kids fought and came back," Loyola coach Charley Toomey said. "We gave them too many easy ones in my opinion. It's always fireworks when Denver and Loyola play. I think the fans got their money's worth today."


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