BALTIMORE – Loyola University Maryland secured its spot in the 2014 NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championships on Sunday, winning the Patriot League Championship, 16-7, over Lehigh University at Ridley Athletic Complex.
The Greyhounds (14-1 overall), who won the conference title in their first year of League membership, will play in the NCAA Championships for the third time in as many years.
Led by Matt Sawyer’s four goals, five Loyola players had two or more goals, and six finished with multi-point games in the win over the third-seeded Mountain Hawks (13-5). Brian Schultz tallied three goals and two assists, and Nikko Pontrello tallied two of each, while Justin Ward finished with a goal and three assists.
Jack Runkel, who was named the Tournament’s Most Valuable Player, made 15 saves and had 27 in the Championships. He was joined on the All-Tournament Team by teammates Joe Fletcher, Schultz and Ward.
With his third assist, Ward tied the Patriot League single-season record for assists with 48, matching the total of Bucknell University’s David Dickson from a year ago.
Lehigh got on the board first as Patrick Corbett struck for an unassisted goal 1:11 into play, but starting with Tyler Albrecht’s goal at 7:10, Loyola went on a 6-0 run that carried into the second quarter.
Schultz delivered a hard shot that went off the cross bar, but right to Albrecht who scooped up the ground ball and stuck with a low shot past Mountain Hawks’ goalkeeper Matt Poillon. Pontrello then added back-to-back goals for the Greyhounds.
His first came after Ward broke out of traffic behind the cage and found Pontrello for a 12-yard stepdown shot on the left side at 4:55 in the first. He then caught a Ward pass, shot-faked and face-dodged a defender to score from outside 54 ticks into the second period.
It was Sawyer’s turn to score consecutive goals for Loyola. Schultz passed up a shot and found him on the crease for one at 11:14, and Brian Sherlock then dodged right and fed Sawyer to the left for his second at 8:53.
Kevin Ryan capped the 6-0 run after a quick Schultz restart and feed from behind, scoring from on top of the crease at 5:52 to make it 6-2 Greyhounds.
Lehigh, however, scored two quickly with under three minutes left in the first half. Dan Taylor connected in transition at 2:59, and Dylan O’Shaughnessy used a Taylor feed 29 ticks of the clock later to cut the Mountain Hawks’ deficit to three, 6-3.
Runkel snuffed out a point-blank shot by Taylor with less than 25 seconds left in the half, and at the end of a quick clear, Ward sent a pass to Schultz on the crease for a goal that gave the Greyhounds a four-goal cushion at halftime, 7-3.
That save thwarted what could have been a 4-0 Lehigh run as the Mountain Hawks went man-up early in the third after a Loyola push, and Kurtis Kaunas scored on a high bouncer at 13:47.
The Greyhounds struck back with an extra-man goal of their own at 9:34 when Ward threw a pass to Sawyer for a 12-yard rip. That goal started another Loyola run that was extended at 2:39 with a transition goal. The ball went behind the cage to Pontrello who fed Schultz at the top for a 13-yard bullet.
With less than 13 seconds left in the third quarter, Kevin Ryan made a long run on the left side, beat his defender and dumped in a goal over Poillon’s shoulder to push the advantage to six, 10-4, heading into the final 15 minutes of regulation.
Loyola killed an early fourth-quarter pushing penalty, and Brian Sherlock went on a one-man clear. He kept going straight to the goal and scored at 13:04 to cap a 4-0 run.
Corbett got one back for Lehigh at 11:02, but Sherlock scored again in transition. This time, the ball went behind to Pontrello who threw it to Sherlock as he stepped into the top of the box, and Sherlock tallied his second of the day to go with an assist. That goal sparked another 4-0 Loyola run.
The Greyhounds ran a man-down clear, and Derek Zook hit Justin Ward cutting to the goal for a score at 6:18. The assist was the first point of the defender’s career.
Lehigh set up a ride with the goalkeeper out of the crease, but Ward threw a long pass to Fletcher who fed Sawyer for his fourth of the game at 4:33, and Schultz rolled the crease to score his third at 2:38.
Corbett notched his third of the game off a rebound at 1:20, but Matt Cunningham used a Ryan Fournier pass to respond for Loyola with 37 ticks left on the clock.
Loyola’s nine-goal margin of victory was the largest ever in a Patriot League Championship Game, and the 16 goals tied the tournament record for total goals by one team. The Greyhounds’ 26 points (16 goals, 10 assists) set a tournament record, too.
The Greyhounds picked up 41 ground balls to the Mountain Hawks’ 37. Fletcher and Graham Savio led the way with six each, while Fournier had four. Fletcher also caused three turnovers.
The win was Loyola’s 14th in a row, tying the program record for most consecutive victories (2012). It is also matches the 2012 team’s mark as the seventh-longest in the NCAA since 2002.
Loyola wraps up its regular-season on Saturday, March 3, when it hosts Johns Hopkins University at 12 noon. Tickets for the game are going quickly. Fans can purchase, and print them at home, at www.loyolagreyhounds.com/