March 9, 2014

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Sawyer, Pontrello Shine as Loyola Dispatches Duke

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | McLaughlin Archive

 
 

BALTIMORE — In Loyola coach Charley Toomey's judgment, there was nothing to dislike about the fourth-ranked Greyhounds' 14-7 manhandling of third-ranked and defending NCAA champion Duke on Sunday night.

"We got what we deserved," Toomey said, speaking about how the team prepared ahead of the nationally-televised matchup. "We were tough in every phase of the game. ... I've been at Loyola a long, long time, I don't have many sweeter victories than that one. It was a great team win."

It was comprehensive, from one end of the field to the other.

Loyola senior midfielder Matt Sawyer finished with a career-high six goals on seven shots, attackman Nikko Pontrello had five goals on seven shots while Justin Ward chipped in a goal and four assists. The Greyhounds' top guns chased Duke starting goalie Luke Aaron twice, once in each half. Aaron finished with only three saves and backup Kyle Turri, the incumbent starter heading into this season, made five.

Meanwhile on defense, Loyola held Duke star attackmen Jordan Wolf and Josh Dionne each to 1-for-7 shooting and showed a mix of man-to-man and zone looks. Defenseman Joe Fletcher had seven ground balls and goalie Jack Runkel made nine saves, often at angles he enjoyed and 12- to 15-yard distances that made it easy. And even on faceoffs, where the Blue Devils have reigning NCAA tournament MVP Brendan Fowler, Loyola freshman Graham Savio had 10 wins to Fowler's 13.

Loyola improved to 5-1 on the season with the lone loss coming in a wild season-opener at Virginia. The Blue Devils (4-2) dropped their second game in a row, both to top-five opponents.

"Their best players made plays today," Duke coach John Danowski said. "Their kids shot the ball terrifically and they played very, very well."

Duke led 4-3 at the end of the first quarter, but went scoreless for a stretch of 16 minutes and the Greyhounds scored five consecutive times to race to an 8-4 lead with three minutes remaining before halftime. The Blue Devils took eight first-half penalties, albeit with four of them coming with less than a minute to go in the second quarter and three being concurrent one-minute fouls on short-stick defensive midfielder Will Haus. Loyola scored three extra-man goals on the night while Duke was just 1 of 4 on EMOs.

The Greyhounds' advantage was 10-6 heading into the fourth quarter and Loyola tacked on four in fourth quarter, with Sawyer getting two, Pontrello one and Ward his lone goal of the night.

"The way we're shooting as a team, it makes everything easier," Pontrello said.

Loyola scored 11 of the final 14 goals of the game.

"Offensively, we handled [Duke's] pressure," Toomey said. "It forced us to run by a few guys. There wen't as many assisted goals as we're comfortable with. We'd like to have more, but it was that type of game. Our guys got underneath and got some really good looks and put some tough pressure on two talented goalies."

Indeed, Sawyer's fourth goal, from the left wing with 2:49 left in the first half led to Duke's first goalie switch. Turri, the starter on last year's national title team who lost his job to Aaron in Duke's second game of the year against Denver, made a save in the two-man down situation before half. But Aaron started the second half and played into the fourth quarter before being pulled for the second time after Ward scored to make it 13-6.

It was Duke's first game with four-year starter Henry Lobb back in the lineup after sitting out the start of the season with a lower-body injury. He played alongside Casey Carroll and Chris Hipps on close defense. Jamie Ikeda had started the previous five games in Lobb's place.

"It's never really one person's fault," Danowski said. "Defensively, I don't think we communicated very well, which is on me. I didn't do a good job coaching. We didn't get our hands on people. I can't say it was Luke's fault. ... [But] he had seen enough. That was enough for one day; 13 goals against."

Sawyer, the younger brother of Loyola's former Tewaaraton Award finalist Mike, reached his career-high on his third goal with 9:09 left in the second quarter, but went in to put in three more in front of an announced crowd of 3,912, the fourth largest for an event at Loyola's Ridley Athletic Complex. At times, he looked like his older brother, firing in similar stingers from the wing.

"We did a ton of shooting drills this week," Sawyer said. "We shot pretty well against Lehigh [also a 14-7 win, on March 1] and we wanted to keep that going into this game... As I dodged, Nikko was getting through. We were all working together really well, which opened up the dodging alleys for other people."

While the Blue Devils had the advantage in ground balls for the majority of the game, Loyola also finished with the edge in that department, 35-34. That's a Duke trademark and part of the reason the Blue Devils are headed to the White House on Monday to be honored with the other NCAA Division I title winners for the 2012-13 season. After going unbeaten in February coming off the national title, the Blue Devils have dropped two in March to two teams that could be ranked first and second in the nation come Monday morning.

"Maybe it was the big crowd. Maybe it was this desire to do well so badly that they lose their fundamentals," Danowski said when asked about Wolf and Dionne's shooting in particular. "They had some really good looks. ... I don't know that it was anything defensively. It was a matter of executing."

Defensively, Loyola used zone looks at times and Fletcher, the centerpiece of the defense who is the lone collegian in the running to make the final 23-man Team USA roster for this July's Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) World Championship, said the unit is feeling more comfortable with one another.

"This season starts so quick now," Fletcher said. "We had two weeks and then had our first scrimmage. It comes at you quick. We just needed time to get used to each other. Right now, we're communicating well. We have the discipline and we just like playing with each other."

Toomey sees that, too.

"I see a team that I enjoy being around. I think they enjoy being around each other," Toomey said. "It's a fun group of guys to be around. They push each other. They push the right buttons on the field, certainly in the weight room, in the film room. They pay attention to detail. If there's any similarities to some past teams, it might be you get a good vibe when you're hanging out with these guys. They push each other the right way."


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