Forget that it's a long way to the NCAA Division I lacrosse championship at Syracuse University.
Early favorite Loyola was in top form most of the way while ripping Towson State, 23-13, to defend its title in the second annual Choice-Visa Classic before 4,100 yesterday at University of Maryland Baltimore County.
The Greyhounds, national runners-up last year, are expected to be favored now that three-time champion Syracuse has lost the Gait twins, Paul and Gary, to graduation.
And after prevailing in yesterday's game of streaks, Loyola seems on course.
"It was more important to play well than to win the tournament," said Greyhounds coach Dave Cottle. "The kids were disappointed after yesterday [a 12-3 victory Saturday over UMBC], but today we played as well as we could for this early -- that's for sure.
"We learned yesterday [Saturday] that when we hold the ball too long, we're mediocre. But today we did a much better job offensively," he said.
His team, which dominated, except for an eight-minute stretch in the second and third quarters, scored 11 unanswered goals en route to a 13-2 lead 6 minutes, 43 seconds before halftime.
Then, after Towson State sliced the gap to 13-9, the Greyhounds scored six straight goals -- including three in a row by game Most Valuable Player Chris Colbeck -- to open a 19-9 lead entering the fourth quarter.
The Greyhounds -- who outshot the Tigers, 64-38, assisted on 17 of the 23 goals and had an 84-49 edge in ground balls -- regained their 11-goal lead, 21-10, when Jim Nagle converted Pat Ervin's feed 11 minutes from the end.
The late surge was headed by Colbeck, a senior attackman from Calvert Hall, who scored four of his five goals after Towson State had pulled within 13-9. Colbeck repeatedly burned the zone defense for close-in goals.
"Since we've played a zone for the past four years, I've had a lot of practice against it. It's just a matter of finding the seams," Colbeck said. "Also, we have really good feeders, like Jim Blanding, and such good outside shooters that it opens up the middle for us."
Fellow attackman Kevin Beach added five goals and two assists for the winners. Scoring three each were Blanding and midfielder Gary Miller (C. Milton Wright), a sophomore transfer from Essex Community College.
The Tigers had three goals from Glenn Smith and two each from Rob Shek, Joe Genovese and David Shoul.
"We played a physically expensive game yesterday [a 12-7 defeat of Johns Hopkins Saturday], and, today [yesterday], physically we just weren't there," said coach Carl Runk. "But this is the fall, and the kids gave the best they could at this time. We'll come back in the spring."
Cottle agreed that conditioning was a factor. "We hung in there [during Towson's rally], and they expended a lot of energy in catching up," he said.
Loyola spotted Towson the game's first goal when John Blatchley drew a double behind the goal and quickly found Shoul open on the crease. But Loyola countered 45 seconds later, as Miller fed Colbeck from the midfield.
Loyola took the lead for good, 2-1, when Blanding scored off Colbeck's pass on a fast break initiated by defenseman Scott Oslislo.
Beach contributed four goals and Miller three to the spurt that opened Loyola's 13-2 edge.
Loyola outshot Towson, 19-4, in the pivotal third quarter.