HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. - The previous three seasons ended bitterly for the Loyola lacrosse team, as coach Dave Cottle's program experienced a series of embarrassing losses to lower seeds in the NCAA tournament.
Sour memories were not packed for the bus ride home from yesterday's quarterfinals at Hofstra Stadium, where the Greyhounds threw a serious scare into Princeton before losing, 8-7.
The top-ranked, second-seeded Tigers were nearly undone by a seventh seed that leaned on a goalie who nearly didn't return for his senior year and a lean midfield that lost one of its three yeomen with 12 minutes left.
Cottle coached nearly every touch, let alone possession, but the hidden-ball trick was still the only way his team solved Princeton goalie Trevor Tierney over a pivotal 27-minute stretch in a game short on goals, but loaded with intrigue.
"Loyola gave us all we could handle, from a coaching standpoint, from a playing standpoint," Tigers coach Bill Tierney said. "That was 60 minutes of the most mentally tough game I have ever been a part of."
Princeton (12-1) moved on to next Saturday's semifinals at Rutgers, where it will meet the winner of today's Maryland-Towson game.
Syracuse is the only team to beat the five-time champions in the NCAA tournament since 1992, and the notion that the Greyhounds (10-4) could match up with the mighty Tigers, particularly in the goal, was not accepted as the season played out.
Tierney, the coach's son, came into the tournament tops in the nation in save percentage (.702) and goals allowed (4.8). Jason Born came into it with questions about his big-game ability.
The senior from Mount St. Joe allowed 31 goals in the last two games of 2000, and the only thing that made him return for his final season was some encouraging talks from his mother, Sherry.
"I was considering quitting last summer," said Born, who began the season second on the depth chart, but regained his job by game three and starred against Georgetown in the first round. "I was a scholarship player, but I looked into some alternatives. I put too much pressure on myself."
Born stood up to Princeton's pressure as he stopped 11 of its 32 shots.
"He started the season a boy and left a man," Cottle said.
The only quarter in which the Tigers solved Born was the third, when a 4-3 halftime lead turned into a 6-4 deficit for the Greyhounds. Will MacColl put Princeton ahead to stay 4:35 into the second half on a feed from Ryan Boyle, the freshman quarterback from Gilman, but the next Tigers goal was the one that doomed Loyola.
Fifty seconds later, Princeton attackman Sean Hartofolis was hit with an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty, and when he kept talking, a second non-releasable minute in the box was tacked on.
Tierney snuffed Bobby Horsey, then Chris Summers, and his clear zipped from Winship Ross to Boyle to Hartofolis, who entered the game on the fly and made it 6-4 with 7 minutes left in the third.
"Emotionally, that was as big as anything that happened in the game," Bill Tierney said.
Down a man for three minutes, his son still turned back Loyola's first six shots in the third quarter. He never saw the seventh as Prout faked a shovel pass to Horsey on the left side, rolled out top and shot past Tierney, who was looking the other way.
"That came from Canada," said Prout, who is from Whitby, Ontario. "The game has a lot of nuances up there. Me and Bobby have tried it in practice, but never in a game."
It was one of the few plays not scripted by Cottle, who slowed the pace, had John Brasko limit Boyle's touches and got 50 minutes out of midfielders Horsey, who had four assists, and Prout, who had three goals.
Michael Sullivan would have lasted as long had he not injured his right knee with 12:18 left. He had knee surgery on the left in February.
Goals by Owen Daly and Brad Dumont, sophomores out of McDonogh School, pushed Princeton's lead to 8-5 with 7:36 left, but Loyola didn't quit. Gunnar Goettelmann scored, then fed Prout with 2:10 left. Ryan Radonis won the faceoff, but his pass to Stephen Brundage went astray and Princeton ran out the clock.
"I almost called timeout after Ryan got the ball," Cottle said. "That's the only thing I wish I would have done, but scoring on Princeton after a timeout is so tough."
So is beating Trevor Tierney, even with an extra man.
Loyola 1 3 1 2 - 7 Princeton 1 2 3 2 - 8
Goals: L-Prout 3, Goettelmann 2, Brundage, Sullivan; P-Daly 2, MacColl 2, Hartofilis 2, Dumont. Assists: L-Horsey 4, Goettelmann 2; P-Boyle 3, Striebel. Saves: L-Born 11; P-Tierney 12.